Sexual assault survivors who report the attack to the police or discuss it with others often experience a lot of doubt on those with whom they speak. They are often asked questions related to fighting back, screaming, and finding a way to remove themselves from the situation. Facing this doubt from others can be just as painful as the sexual assault itself. Survivors often experience guilt and shame, whether or not they come forward with their experience. Survivors might even find themselves asking if they were to blame, if they could have done something different, if they could have resisted more and if the attack was their fault.
A study released in 2017 by Obstetrics & Gynaecology found that involuntary paralysis could be caused by sexual assault. The study discovered that the majority of women who visited a clinic in Stockholm called the Emergency Clinic for Rape Victims said that they did not fight their attacker. The study also discovered that the majority of women who visited the clinic did not scream for someone to help them during the attack. The study found that many of the women suffered from a condition known as tonic immobility during the attack.
What is tonic immobility?
According to Scientific American, tonic immobility is defined as a person who is in a state of involuntary paralysis that prevents a person from being able to move, and in extreme cases, prevent them from speaking. This condition has not been extensively studied in humans, but it has been witnessed in soldiers and women who have been victims of sexual assault. A study published in Science Direct in 2005 found that 52 percent of undergraduate women who reported sexual abuse from their childhood also reported suffering from this type of involuntary paralysis.
The Obstetrics & Gynaecology study results
The data from the Obstetrics & Gynaecology study in Stockholm reported that of the close to 300 women who visited the clinic, 70 percent of them experienced some form of tonic immobility and 48 percent experienced an extreme case of this involuntary paralysis. The women who visited the clinic, a total of 298, reported their assault within 30 days of the incident. Of the 298 women, 189 returned to the clinic for a follow-up visit six months after their initial visit.
The study also found that survivors of sexual assault who experienced extreme symptoms of tonic immobility had double the chance of suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These survivors were also three times more likely to suffer from some form of severe depression in the months following the assault than the women who were assaulted and didn’t experience extreme tonic immobility.
University of Sydney psychiatrist Kasia Kozlowska, who recently published a study in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry that discusses the involuntary defense methods in the brain of animals and humans, released the following statement about tonic immobility:
“I am not surprised that tonic immobility is common. After all, tonic immobility is designed to activate when there is contact with a predator (akin to the sexual abuse situation). Theoretically, one could expect it to activate when there is physical contact, high arousal and fear, and no possibility of running away.”
Victims of sexual assault should never fear coming forward about their attack and attacker. Your life is precious, and your rights should always be protected. The team at Taylor & Ring successfully fights for California victims of sexual assault of all ages. Call our team in Los Angeles today at 310-776-6390 to schedule a consultation. You can also complete a form on our website and a member of the firm will reach out to you in a timely manner.