Why So Many Rape Victims Don't 'Fight Back'

A new study has revealed that 'involuntary paralysis' is common for women to experience during sexual assault

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Looking to victims or alleged victims of sexual assault's behaviour before, during and after a sexual attack is a dangerous, but frequent, way of determining an attacker's guilt.

Recently we have seen football player Ched Evans cleared on his retrial of rape due to the potential victim's sexual activity both prior and after the sexual encounter with Evans.

Many people have condemned this inclusion into evidence because it has been illegal to question rape victims sexual history since 1999.

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According to the Independent, Ms Baird, the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner who played a large role in changing the law in the nineties, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme:

The only difference between a clear conviction of Mr Evans in 2012 and the absolute refusal of him having any leave to appeal at that time, and his acquittal now, is that he has called some men to throw discredit on [the woman's] sexual reputation. That, I think, is pouring prejudice in, which is exactly what used to happen before the law in 1999 stopped the admission of previous sexual history in order to show consent. We've gone back, I'm afraid, probably about 30 years.

Likewise, questioning how to define 'consent' within a rape case is confusing - many woman have felt like they haven't given consent, despite not shouting or 'fighting them off'.

Last year, a 46 year-old man in Turin, Italy, was acquitted of sexual assault because the women did not react strongly enough: she said 'stop it' but didn't scream, according to the Washington Post.

Essentially, these presumptions create the idea of a 'perfect victim', whereby unless an angelic woman gets attacked by a stranger and screams for her life, they are as on trial as much the potential attacker.

In reality, we know that rape victims often know their attacker. We also know that women can have complex and varied sex lives, and now we have a new study confirming that it is 'normal' for victims of sexual assault (female or otherwise) to experience a temporary paralysis.

The Swedish study, published in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, comes from a research pool of nearly 300 women who went to an emergency clinic in Stockholm within one month of a rape or an attempted rape.

Almost half of the women experienced extreme paralysis which rendered them catatonic, whilst 70 per cent said they experienced involuntary paralysis during the attack.

'It really confirms that a significant number of women who experience sexual assault do not respond in what we think of as the typical 'fight or flight' pattern; they respond by freezing', Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, but did not work on the study, told HuffPost.

This 'freeze' response is also linked to a higher likelihood of PTSD, though the specific reason is unknown. Both, however, have a strong neurobiological component to them.

The study featured only female patients, however Palumbo believes men experience a similar response and that people who work closely with survivors of sexual assault have known for a while that the 'freeze' response is completely normal.

Palumbo explained the importance of understanding these responses:

So much of what we think someone 'could' or 'should' be doing is not an option when a person's counter response kicks in, and that's incredibly valuable information for anyone who is working in the medical field to understand ... it's important for police and investigative officials, for attorneys and judges. But it's also important for the rest of us who come into contact with sexual assault survivors on a daily basis, whether we think about that intentionally or not.

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