‘I felt paralyzed’: This is why rape victims don’t fight back

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‘I felt paralyzed’: This is why rape victims don’t fight back

‘It’s painful when people ask me why I didn’t fight back, because it makes me feel like my assault was my fault’

Many believe that fighting back should be a natural response during sexual assault. In court, not resisting could even leave the person accused of sexual assault uncharged. Last spring a judge in Spain asked a victim if she tried to close her legs while she was being raped.

However, a new study says there is a deeper reason behind not fighting back. During situations of extreme threat, victims may experience involuntary motor paralysis known as tonic immobility.

This means that when a person is sexually assaulted, they may lose the ability to move due to fear and/or a lack of resources to help them fight back.

70 percent of the 298 women in the study reported significant tonic immobility and 48 percent experienced extreme tonic immobility.

The study could be important during rape trials, giving reason to why victims didn’t resist.

“The courts may be inclined to dismiss the notion of rape [if] the victim didn’t appear to resist,” Möller said. “Instead, what might be interpreted as passive consent is very likely to represent normal and expected biological reactions to an overwhelming threat,” Dr. Anna Möller, told Broadly.

babe spoke to victims of sexual assault who have experienced tonic immobility. This is what it’s like to feel unable to fight back

Anna, 20

“I was afraid what he would do if I kept saying no. During all that time I was in my own head but couldn’t move. I guess I can relate it most to feeling like I turned into a rag doll, because I’d robotically move if needed or if forced, but not fight back no matter how much my insides screamed for me too.”

Sarah, 21

“I was assaulted by a family friend when I was very young, and I couldn’t move. I was numb and felt frozen in place, or held by the gravity of a moment I couldn’t comprehend.I feel that I still struggle in relationships and with feelings of guilt and worthlessness because of the experience.”

Grace, 19

“I remember just having a moment of complete blankness when he went on top of me ,and I just stopped fighting back when he penetrated me. I felt so empty and weak. I didn’t move and just had tears when it was over.”

 Maria, 21

“I just closed my eyes and prayed it would be over soon. Fighting back wasn’t even an option, because I was so paralyzed with fear and terror that someone I cared about would do this to me. It’s painful when people ask me why I didn’t fight back, because it makes me feel like my assault was my fault, but in reality my body physically couldn’t react.”

 Erin, 22

“I was raped during my 18th birthday holiday away with my friend. I’m a strong girl, and I know how to stand my ground. But when it was about to happen I just froze. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t push him off. I was just so terrified. It was horrible, and I hate how it happened to me. I wish I fought and beat the shit out of the scumbag, but I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t physically do anything.”

Alyssa, 20

“He was someone that I considered my best friend and confident, so us hanging out after drinking wasn’t anything unusual. Watching a movie with him also wasn’t unusual, but when he started trying to escalate things I said no, and then froze. I felt outside of my body.I didn’t fight back because I didn’t know how. I was paralyzed. I’ve ‘play wrestled’ with him before, because he honestly felt like a brother to me. I had met and stayed with his family before. I realized my story would hold no credibility, and I would have no fight. I felt powerless, and to this date I cower at the thought of him. I cannot make male friends. Now I’m working on probation and parole for sex offenders, and I am adamant to help prevent other girls from feeling powerless in the courts in the way which I felt.”

Gretchen, 21

“I had a guy shove his hand down my pants and i didn’t do anything about it cause i had told him not to touch me and was completely shocked when he did it anyway. so i just sat there and stared at his I’m disbelief for minutes”


Quotes have been edited for brevity and length 

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