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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. One need only look to the ongoing saga of alleged sexual assault against celebrity Bill Cosby to see how those who come forward might be viewed by society.

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

As James W. Hopper, PhD. 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 (learn more about the phenomenon here), 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.

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. There have been recent efforts to correct this, especially on college campuses, although we might have a long way to go as attested by the recent controversy surrounding Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

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.


Our guest contributor, Leto Copeley, has been successfully litigating cases for more than 25 years. Since 2006, Leto has been included in the list of North Carolina Super Lawyers published by Law and Politics Magazine and has the highest rating (AV) for legal ability and ethical standards given by Martindale Hubbell. Her firm, Copeley Johnson & Groninger, PLLC currently have offices in Durham and Charlotte, North Carolina.

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