Rape victims can suffer involuntarily paralysis during the attack, a study has found. A study of rape victims found seven out of ten rape victims ‘froze’ during the ordeal rather than attempting to fight back. The findings undermine claims sometimes made on behalf of accused rapists that not moving constitutes ‘passive consent’.
WHAT IS TONIC IMMOBILITY? Tonic immobility is a natural state of paralysis which animals often enter. It is also called animal hypnosis. Animals such as rabbits freeze to appear dead during a predatory attack – especially when resistance is not possible. However, the concept has been little studied in humans. Researchers warn that many women feel shame and guilt for not fighting back – yet paralysis during rape is a common occurrence. The paralysis – called ‘tonic immobility’ is common in nature.
Animals such as rabbits freeze to appear dead during a predatory attack – especially when resistance is not possible, the researchers said. However, the concept has been little studied in humans.
Researchers warn that many women feel shame and guilt for not fighting back – yet paralysis during rape is a common occurrence. In the UK, prosecutors already advise juries that it is a myth women always fight back during rape and may freeze out of shock or terror.
But a study of rape trials by Bath University in 2015 found that the suggestion victims show passive consent because they do not move is still being made by defence lawyers.
Researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute assessed 298 women who had visited the Emergency Clinic for Rape Victims in Stockholm within one month of a sexual assault. Of the 298 women, 70 per cent reported ‘significant tonic immobility’ while of these 48 per cent reported extreme tonic immobility. Lead author Dr Anna Moller said: ‘The present study shows that tonic immobility is more common than earlier described.
THE BEHAVIOUR OF SERIAL RAPISTS A recent study found that serial and one-time rapists behave differently. Crimes committed by a serial offender often involve kidnapping, along with verbally and physically threatening the victims. In these cases, weapons are often involved. But, they found that serial offenders were less likely to restrain and injure victims during the attack. One-time offenders, however, were more likely to punch, slap, or hold down/restrain a victim.
They also found that serial offenders were more likely to commit an assault outside, in a vehicle, or in a garage, while a one-time offender would attack in a house, whether it be their own, the victim’s or that of a third party. And, 58 percent of serial offenders commit all of their crimes in the same type of setting.
The study also revealed that one-time offenders are more likely to commit sexual assaults with other people, like in gang rapes, while serial offenders were more likely to be strangers to their victims. ‘This information is useful both in legal situations and in the psychoeducation of rape victims. Further, this knowledge can be applied in the education of medical students and law students.’
Tonic immobility was assessed by a asking a series of questions which the complainant had to answer on a scale of 1-10. These included feeling frozen or paralysed, the inability to move though not restrained, the inability to call out or scream, numbness, feeling cold, fearing for one’s life and feeling detached from self. It also assessed levels of fear and panic, which include questions about how trembling and shaking and feeling detached from one’s surroundings. Prior trauma and a history of psychiatric treatment were also linked with tonic immobility. The research also found that women with a previous history of sexual assault either or both in childhood and adulthood were twice as likely to report paralysis during the most recent assault. The paralysed group were also twice as likely to have suffered more severe violence during the attack. However, women who had drunk alcohol in the last 12 hours were 50 per cent less likely to report that they suffered paralysis during an attack. There was no difference found between women who knew their attackers and rapes by strangers.
Suffering paralysis was also a risk factor for further psychological problems, the study found. Out of 189 women in the original study who returned after six months, 38 per cent of the women went on to suffer post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]. Having undergone tonic immobility was associated with a 2.75 times increased risk of developing PTSD and 3.42 times more likely to suffer severe depression. In previous – small scale studies of rape victims, levels were a much smaller scale at between 37 per cent – 50 per cent. The research was published in Acta Obstetrica et Gynecologica Scandinavica.