Socially Acceptable Coercion
and Other Controversies
CHARLENE L. MUEHLENHARD
ZOË D. PETERSON
It is not controversial to say that sexual violence is a serious problem that merits efforts to prevent it. Dig deeper into the meanings of this statement, however, and controversy abounds. Anyone involved in studying or preventing sexual violence needs to make decisions that are likely to be controversial—decisions that reflect values and implicit or explicit theories about power, violence, sexuality, and gender. In this chapter we discuss controversies about defining sexual violence, dilemmas surrounding whether to focus research and prevention efforts on victims, perpetrators, or society, and the issues involved in acknowledging that sexual violence does not have uniformly severe consequences. We primarily address rape, but we also draw examples from the literature on child sexual abuse and domestic violence.
[Rape is the] culturally disvalued use of coercion by a male
to achieve the submission of a female to sexual intercourse.
—LEVINE(1959, p. 965)
Definitions are important for practical reasons: To do research on the prevalence or consequences of sexual violence, it is necessary to decide