Sexual Coercion Scale

Sexual Coercion Scale


Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis

Sexual coercion is a relatively common event in young women’s lives. The Sexual Coercion Scale (SCS; Aalsma, Zimet, Fortenberry, Blythe, & Orr, 2002) was developed in order to measure the occurrence of unwanted sexual behavior in adolescent and adult populations. Our definition of sexual coercion includes the use of pressure, threat, or force by one partner to obtain sex that is unwanted by the other partner (Blythe, Fortenberry, Temkit, Tu, & Orr, 2006). The SCS is a brief measure of sexual coercion that still retains multiple items in order to assess internal reliability as well as consistency of reporting. It is particularly important to have brief, multiple-item scales in studies in which a goal is to assess a wide range of sexual functioning and behavior items.


The SCS consists of four items. Because we assessed a wide variety of sexual behaviors, we felt it was important to make a distinction between sexual coercion from other sexual behaviors, including childhood sexual abuse. One distinction between coercion and sexual abuse that was evident in focus groups with adolescents was age. Hence, our instructions for the scale include an age break because focus groups indicated sexual coercion was distinguished from childhood sexual abuse as being a more recent experience, occurring after age 12. This age break is also developmentally appropriate, as children at this age are beginning to engage in romantic and sexual partnerships. In addition, the instructions specifically instruct the participant that sexual coercion can occur within a romantic or sexual partnership. (“Unwanted” means any kind of sex that you didn’t agree to, even if it was with someone you knew.) The scale describes a wide variety of unwanted sexual experiences, including undesired sex. We wanted to include a range of power and relational imbalances, including overt physical threats as well as covert relational tactics. Given the age restriction and the reading difficulty, the SCS is most appropriate for adolescent and adult populations.

Response Mode and Timing

A 3-point Likert-type response format is utilized with this scale (1 = Never, 2 = Once, 3 = Two Times or More). The participant is asked to circle the correct descriptor.


The total score for this scale is calculated by summing across items and can range from 0 to 12.


The SCS was utilized in a study of female adolescent and young adult subjects (14 to 24 years of age) recruited from urban health clinics and a sexually transmitted disease clinic in a large midwestern city. The scale demonstrated good internal reliability at baseline (alpha = .67; Aalsma et al., 2002).


Items in the SCS are comparable to other scales assessing sexual coercion, which is an indicator of content

Sexual Coercion Scale

validity. Support for the construct validity of the SCS can be achieved by assessing its relationship with other variables. In previous research, we found consistent reporters of childhood sexual abuse were more likely to have elevated levels of sexual coercion based on the SCS (Aalsma et al., 2002).

Instructions: These next questions are about unwanted sexual activity after you were 12 years old. “Unwanted” means any kind of sex that you didn’t agree to, even if it was with someone you knew.

  1. How often has someone used physical force (like punching you or holding you down) to make you have sex? Never Once Two or More

  2. How often has someone used a weapon (like a gun or a knife) to make you have sex? Never Once Two or More

  3. How often have you had sex with someone because you were afraid of them? Never Once Two or More

  4. How often have you had sex when you really didn’t want to? Never Once Two or More

Address correspondence to Matthew C. Aalsma, Section of Adolescent Medicine, Indiana University School of Medicine, 575 N. West Dr., Rm. 070, Indianapolis, IN 46202; e-mail: [email protected]


Aalsma, M. C., Zimet, G. D., Fortenberry, J. D., Blythe, M. J., & Orr, D. P. (2002). Report of childhood sexual abuse by adolescents and young adults: Stability over time. The Journal of Sex Research, 39, 259–263.

Blythe, M. J., Fortenberry, J. D., Temkit, M., Tu, W., & Orr, D. P. (2006). Incidence and correlates of unwanted sex and relationships of middle and late adolescent women. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 160, 591–595.