Sexual Coercion

Decent Essays
In “Lines of Color, Sex, and Service: Sexual Coercion in the Early Republic,” by Sharon Block she examines the startling similarities between Harriet Jacobs, an African-American slave in 1825 and Rachel Davis, an indentured servant during the 1790s. At first glance, it would seem that both girls would have no similarities, however, by uncovering their stories you can find many parallels between Harriet and Rachel. Both girls are faced with sexual pressure and sexual coercion from their masters, the power struggle between them, their mistresses attempt at inferring in their relationship, their eventual removal from their house, and their attempts at sharing the experience with family members and close friends. Block writes, “This contrast between…show more content…
Both masters used their position to their advantage and created opportunities where they could sexually pursue the girls, and they also used psychological and manipulative tactics over physical. For Harriet, her master, James, structured her work so that she was constantly alone with him and would request for his daughter to sleep with him, which required for Harriet to also sleep in the same room. By making more situations where Harriet and James were alone together he set the stage to let sexual coercion occur without any interruptions. Block writes, “He [James Norcum] ordered Harriet to bring his meals to him so that while she watched him so that while she watched him eat he could verbally torture her with the consequences of refusing his sexual overtures.” James relied on sexual coercion to constantly remind Harriet her position and instill fear in her, which would make her more obedient to sexual assault. This behavior is why Block decided to use the term sexual coercion instead of rape. Rape implies something more violent and physical, however, both masters relied on psychological torture and constantly reminded the girls their situation and status. In Rachel’s case her master, William, used his authority to control where she went. William used his position to order Rachel to hold a lantern for him and began to attempt to sexually coerce her. During…show more content…
Both Harriet and Rachel were young at the time and were vulnerable at to their master’s attempts to sexually persuade them. Both stories showed an apparent power dynamic between the master and the submissive, and Block used the same syntax and diction to display the similarities between both cases. However, the differences between these two stories are the outcome of the two cases. When Rachel’s father found out what transpired between Rachel and her master he initiated a rape prosecution against William [Rachel’s master], and he was sentenced to ten years in prison. However, Harriet’s is left with no escape because she is unable to go to court and testify. Block writes, “In 1835, Harriet became a runaway slave, and spent the next seven years a fugitive, hiding in her free grandmother’s attic crawlspace.” Left with no escape, Harriet is forced to extreme circumstances in order to escape her master’s grasp. Block intentionally uses diction and syntax to show several parallels between Harriet’s and Rachel’s cases, and the eventual differential, which is race. Block writes, “The parallels in these two stories, however, stopped at the courtroom door, where a racially based legal system ended the women’s comparable negotiation of personal interactions.” Since Harriet is African-American and a slave she is viewed as property and is unable to have the same opportunities as
Get Access