Definition of Coercion
The broad definition of coercion is “the use of express or implied threats of violence or reprisal (as discharge from employment) or other intimidating behavior that puts a person in immediate fear of the consequences in order to compel that person to act against his or her will.” Actual violence, threats of violence, or other acts of pressure may constitute coercion if they’re used to subvert an individual’s free will or consent.
In legal terms, it’s often said that someone who’s been coerced was acting under duress. In fact, “duress” and “coercion” are often interchanged. Black’s Law Dictionary defines duress as “any unlawful threat or coercion used… to induce another to act [or to refrain from acting] in a manner [they] otherwise would not [or would].”
It’s not always easy to tell when the line between subtle intimidation and coercion has been crossed and even harder to prove. A shrewd business negotiation may be considered contract coercion only if it can be proven that it was signed under duress. Similarly, proving criminal coercion (or duress) rests on the surrounding facts of the incident and may be quite subtle. For example, telling someone “Gee, I’d hate for something to happen to your daughter” is technically vague even when it’s said with coercive intent.