What People Misunderstand About Rape – The New York Times

Sexual assault often goes unpunished when victims fail to fight back. But investigators, psychologists, and biologists all describe freezing as an involuntary response to trauma.

What is tonic immobility? It’s an extreme response to a threat that leaves victims literally paralyzed. They can’t move or speak. Tonic immobility is a survival strategy that has been identified across many classes of animals — insects, fish, reptiles, birds, mammals — and draws its evolutionary power from the fact that many predators seem hard-wired to lose interest in dead prey. It is usually triggered by the perception of inescapability or restraint, like the moment a prey finds itself in a predator’s jaws.

Humans have been shown to experience tonic immobility in the context of war and torture, natural disasters and life-threatening accidents, and studies suggest that it is common in sexual abuse. In the early 1970s, the American researchers Ann Burgess and Lynda Lyttle Holmstrom observed this behavior, what was soon termed “rape-induced paralysis,” in people at Boston City Hospital.

Full story: What People Misunderstand About Rape – The New York Times

4 Replies to “What People Misunderstand About Rape – The New York Times”

  1. How does victim blaming in the police force impact the crimes reported for sexual assault related crimes? In this article, “What People Misunderstand About Rape”, it is written that a detective that worked in the sex crimes unit for fifteen years, was telling victims to their face, that, “the stuff they say makes no sense”. This article sheds a light on victims of rape ‘freezing’ while the crime is committed. This phenomenon is called ‘tonic immobility’, which is now backed up by neurological studies. I ask this question because if detectives that have worked in the field for decades are not taking these cases seriously, I would assume that there is a high percentage of women that have not stepped forward.

    1. I agree with the concerns raised in the article about the impact of victim blaming within the police force on the reporting of sexual assault-related crimes. While underreporting of crimes is a serious consequence of victim blaming, I also wanted to touch-base on some other, equally serious, consequences of victim blaming amongst figures of authority. Victims who are blamed or even disbelieved by authority figures can begin to feel retraumatized as a result of being victimized by the very people who are meant to provide protection and justice. This can lead to a damaged mental well-being and can impact their recovery. Victim blaming also normalizes rape culture, which is incredibly dangerous as it minimizes the seriousness of sexual assault and places all the burden of this trauma onto the victim. Another serious consequence of victim blaming is the fact that this skepticism can actually hinder investigations by deterring survivors from providing crucial information that could help to potentially prosecute their perpetrator. These consequences are equally, if not more, important and impact everyone involved, not just the victim.

    2. Using victim blaming when dealing with individuals who have experienced sexual assault is inappropriate for law enforcement personnel and highly concerning behavior. When someone confides in a police officer that they were assaulted and are seeking help from them being blamed will develop a sense of distrust and doubt in their minds. This sets the precedent that local law enforcement is not there to help individuals who have been assaulted. This can lead to many other victims not coming forward with sexual assaults out of fear of being blamed for actions they had no control over. This could possibly even encourage criminals to continue to sexually assault people, knowing that the victim is being doubted even by law enforcement. A detective with fifteen years of service should already know the consequences of their actions. The effect this will have on victims, and future victims, will lead to distrust in local law enforcement and lead to fewer reported cases.

  2. For someone who had worked in Law Enforcement and in this specific sex crime unit for fifteen years, of all people, should know they should never victim blame. Others who have had sexual assault committed against them and hear of the way that law enforcement is treating other victims and their situations will feel less inclined to share what happened to them and nothing will get solved. This also leads and adds onto police mistrust within the community which is already such a prevalent thing in most communities.

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