We didn’t need proof, but it’s here.
There’s a notion in society that sexual assault victims should “fight back” against an attacker. In fact, some states even had laws stipulating that if a victim did not fight back, what happened was not rape. But sexual assault survivors will tell youthere are many reasons they may not have fought back against an attacker, whether it was because of threats, fear, or that they physically could not. Studies have previously shown that some sexual assault victims experience paralysis during their attack, making them incapable of fighting back. Now, new research makes clear that paralysis during sexual assault is common, and it’s real.
New research published in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica shows tonic immobility — a state of involuntary but temporary paralysis — is a “common reaction” for sexual assault victims. The research also points out that people who experience tonic immobility during an assault are likely to experience PTSD and severe depression in the aftermath.
Of 298 women who visited the Emergency Clinic for Rape Victims in Stockholm within one month after being sexually assaulted, researchers found that 70% of them experienced significant tonic immobility and 48% experienced extreme tonic immobility during the assault. While studies have previously found that this kind of temporary paralysis happens in sexual assault victims, this study is significant because of its large sample size and because it surveyed victims soon after their assaults, reducing the chance of the victims remembering inaccurately, Scientific American reported.
It’s also significant because it challenged the idea of what a “good” rape victim does. In a 2014 essay for BuzzFeed News, Maya Inamura detailed what society considers the “perfect” victim of sexual assault.
“A good victim is one who did nothing to ‘ask for it.’ A good victim does not know her assailant, is not around him willingly, isn’t sexually active, isn’t dressed provocatively, and isn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol. She makes it clear that the assault is not consensual, immediately reports it to the authorities, and cooperates with the investigation,” Maya writes. “No one can find fault with a good victim, because the good victim did everything in her power, and more, to prevent the assault from happening. The fault, therefore, can only lie with the assailant.”
But Maya writes that she was a “bad” victim. She froze during her assault, her memory became hazy, lending doubt to her story. Maya goes on to say that “no one will ever be considered a good victim in our society, because there’s always something one can find for which to fault the victim,” and that’s exactly the point. There is no such thing as a “good” rape victim because everyone experiences sexual assault differently. Even the study’s authors point out that “resisting is generally thought to be the ‘normal’ reaction to sexual assault” and then go on to debunk that there is any normal reaction by showing how common, and involuntary, immobility during sexual assault is.
By implying that rape victims did something wrong by being physically incapable of fighting back, University of Sydney psychiatrist Kasia Kozlowska told Scientific American, we’re actually doing more harm to survivors.
“These courts are actually causing psychological harm to the women and failing to recognize the body’s innate response to serious attack,” Kozlowska said.