In a troubling new Swedish study, researchers found that the reason lots of women don’t fight back during sexual assault is because they physically can’t.
It turns out that in the midst of sexual assault, many women endure a psychological response called “tonic immobility” that leaves them essentially paralyzed.
The study, published today in the journal Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, delved deeply into what tonic immobility really is and how it affects survivors of sexual assault.
What is tonic immobility, and how does it relate to sexual assault?
An involuntary psychological response called “tonic immobility” leaves many women feeling paralyzed when they’re in extremely frightening situations, such as sexual assault.
It’s a normal response for most animals: It’s what your dog’s doing when he “plays dead.”

A Way Out: Helping Domestic Violence Victims Reclaim Their Lives [INSIGHTS]

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Not a lot of research has been done on how the response plays out in humans, but according to Live Science, the researchers of the current study describe it as a state in which the “person cannot move, may be unable to speak and is unresponsive.”
How did the researchers look into its effect on sexual assault survivors?
In order to conduct their study, the researchers had female survivors of sexual assault fill out questionnaires. Each of the almost 300 women had visited the Emergency Clinic for Raped Women in Sweden between February 2009 and December 2011.
The questionnaires asked the women to explain whether or not they had experienced “tonic immobility” during their assaults and whether or not they were experiencing PTSD, acute stress, or depression since the assault.
After the first questionnaire was given, a second one asking the same questions about the aftermath was sent again six months later.
How common is tonic immobility during assault?
After examining their questionnaires, seven out of 10 of the sexual assault survivors admitted to having faced tonic immobility during their attack. That’s 70 percent.
As if that wasn’t horrible enough, 48 percent of those same women said they would classify their level of immobility as “extreme.”
The worse your circumstances, the higher your chance for immobility it seems.

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