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