Don’t Worry If You “Froze” During a Sexual Assault — It Was Normal

Coping After Sexual Assault

Understand the Reaction to Sexual Assault

A lot of victims of sexual assault have a very common reaction.  They “freeze”, or become very still, while they are raped or while some other assault is committed against them. Sometimes they feel sleepy or pass out.

It’s just a myth that a normal person will fight off a sexual assault, or will get away as fast as they can. The only victims I have ever heard of who did this were both women who were assaulted on public streets in broad daylight by complete strangers attempting to kidnap them. I can’t think of any others.  

Because we have this myth in American society of the kicking and screaming rape victim, sometimes victims doubt whether they were actually raped. Or victims of a rape or sexual assault don’t report what happened because they worry the police won’t think it was a crime. They feel ashamed since they know people will ask why they didn’t run.

But don’t let that stop you from getting justice!  

As James W. Hopper, Ph D. wrote in The Washington Post, freezing is a brain-based response to detecting danger, especially a predator’s attack.” If that is what you did, it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. You were just acting the way you were biologically programmed to act. Think deer or rabbit in the headlights.

Neuropsychologists and other scientists have brain-based explanations for what happens. The brain is biologically programmed to have us seize up out of fear, and at the same time, chemical reactions prevent us from thinking clearly. The military knows this. That is why soldiers are trained over and over and over what to do under attack, so they will act out of habit, and keep themselves and their fellow soldiers safe.

Most of us are not prepared, and we freeze, because no one is in the habit of being sexually assaulted, and most of us aren’t getting trained for it. Perhaps thinking ahead about a plan will help if, God forbid, you should find yourself being assaulted.

I read once about a woman whose young son let a rapist in the door. It was morning and the quick-thinking mom told her attacker that he could have his way with her but she would have to call her job and let them know she would be late. On the phone with them, she gave enough hints that they had the police there in quick order. With a young child, she was probably in the habit of having emergencies come up on a workday, so she likely did what she would have if her son woke up with a fever!  

Meanwhile more and more law enforcement officials and university administrators are getting trained to know that most victims do NOT fight off their attackers and that it does not mean they consented.

So, if you were sexually assaulted, report the crime, or call a lawyer who handles sex abuse cases if you are still not sure. Most of us talk to crime victims for free on the phone. See a counselor if you feel guilty about what happened. And don’t listen to the haters.

Posted in Sexual Abuse and Harassment Tagged with: , , ,

Subscribe to our mailing list here and receive interesting news and updates to your inbox.