Tonic Immobility

Trigger warning: sexual assault

Most people know that the body goes into “fight or flight” mode when in a dangerous and stressful situation. What many people don’t know is that there are more possible responses, one of which is to freeze. A person can literally be involuntarily, temporarily paralyzed with fear. This is called tonic immobility.

According to recent research, the majority of female rape survivors do not fight back or yell for help because of tonic immobility.  Another study found that half of people who survived childhood sexual abuse also experienced tonic immobility.

They can’t fight. They can’t run. They’re trapped inside their own bodies. It sucks, but it’s not their fault. Understandably, being unable to move during a traumatic event would have a lasting effect on someone. The same study also found that “those who experienced extreme tonic immobility were twice as likely to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and three times more likely to suffer severe depression in the months after the attack than women who did not have this response.”

There are many reasons not to fight back during a sexual assault. Sometimes it’s simply not necessary. Sometimes the survivor would be physically harmed even more if they fought back. Sometimes the perpetrator is very strong and there’d be no chance of escaping anyway. And sometimes tonic immobility takes over and a person can’t fight back even if they want to. Whatever the reason, not fighting back is totally valid.

So I don’t want to hear any more nonsense about survivors of sexual assault needing to fight back.

Click here for an article about tonic immobility.

Thank you for reading this post. You can find my backstory here.