Odd Enough The terrifying truth about why many women can't 'fight back' during a sexual assault

Many victims of sexual assault experience a temporary paralysis known as “tonic immobility” during the assault according to a research.

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sexual assault paralysis study

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It’s a common critique of sexual assault victims: If someone didn’t want to have a sexual encounter, why didn’t they fight back?

And while sexual assault experts have long argued that people can go into a state of shock, making it difficult for them to ward off an attacker, now new research is backing that up.

A new study published in the Swedish journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica found that many victims of sexual assault experience a temporary paralysis known as “tonic immobility” during the assault that prevents them from fighting back and even from screaming.

For the study, researchers spoke with almost 300 women who visited an emergency clinic in Stockholm within a month after they were the victim of a rape or attempted rape.

A whopping 70 percent reported experiencing significant temporary paralysis and 48 percent said they had “severe” temporary paralysis—meaning they were basically unable to move or speak at all—during the assault.

It gets even worse: The researchers also found that women who experienced paralysis during an assault were at a higher risk of having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

“Tonic immobility during rape is a common reaction associated with subsequent post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression,” researchers concluded.

The findings in this small study are disturbing, but the researchers also point out that it could help with legal proceedings in the future.

Meaning, if a lawyer for an alleged attacker tries to argue that a sexual assault victim wasn’t raped because she didn’t fight back, there’s now scientific evidence to show there was a good reason for it.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, seek help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673).

For more resources on sexual assault, visit RAINN and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

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