SeX and Relationships, A BRAVE Column
By Caroline Dziubek, A BRAVE Peer Educator
CONTENT WARNING: THIS POST DISCUSSES RAPE AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE
There are a lot of questions about what is and isn’t defined as rape. One question I hear a lot: if a person didn’t fight back against their attacker, does that mean it wasn’t rape? In other words, if a person didn’t fight back, they must have wanted it, right? Wrong.
Rape is determined by a lack of consent, not by the victim’s ability to fight back. The latter belief is what we call a “rape myth,” or a false belief about sexual assault that tends to shift blame away from the rapist and onto the survivor. Beliefs like these make it difficult for many survivors to heal. Harmful as they are, though, the truth is that rape myths dominate our society’s perceptions about sexual assault. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve already heard someone spout off this particular rape myth, passing it off as truth when, in reality, it is far from it.
While some victims fight back against their attacker, others remain passive. This response is known as tonic immobility, or colloquially, the ‘freeze’ response. Tonic immobility is a term used to describe a state of paralysis in which the person experiencing said paralysis cannot move or, oftentimes, speak. It’s important to note that it’s a very common response.
According to The Survivor’s Trust, an agency for rape and sexual abuse services in the UK, tonic immobility happens in more than one in three survivors of sexual assault. Without getting into the scientific details, this response is essentially the brain’s way of protecting itself during an extremely traumatic experience. In fact, it’s often the safest response, as fighting one’s attacker may very well lead to greater physical violence, and in some cases, death.
This brings us back to our original question, which, again, has a very simple answer. A person’s response to their attack — that is, whether they fight back or freeze — doesn’t change the fact that, in either case, they did not consent to what happened. And that’s what it all comes down to — consent.
Let me end by saying that if you didn’t fight back, that’s OK. You had no control over the way in which your brain and body reacted. It doesn’t mean that you “wanted it,” or that you could’ve done more to prevent it from happening. And it certainly doesn’t mean that it wasn’t rape. Don’t let anyone, or any myth, tell you otherwise.
Want to learn more? Click here to read BRAVE’s introductory piece: