Experts from University College London (UCL) argue that the law should take into account neuroscientific evidence showing that victims of rape or sexual assault may become frozen due to fear and threat during their experiences.
Sexual assault victims are often blamed for not fighting or fleeing their attackers, according to an article by UCL’s Patrick Haggard and Ebani Dhawan published in Nature Human Behaviour.
According to a news release of the findings, it is estimated that 30% of women will be victims of sexual assault or rape at some point in their lives. Seventy percent of people who have been treated say they were “frozen” and unable to speak or move during their medical visit.
The authors cite R v Lennox (2018), an Australian case, in which the defense attorney attempted to shift responsibility for a sexual assault by asking the victim why she did not resist.
“Victims frequently report immobility during rape and sexual assault, often using the term freezing,” the study’s authors stated in their report.
“Neuroscientific evidence suggests fear and threat can block cortical neural circuits for action control, leading to involuntary immobility. Defense arguments that blame victims for freezing are thus inappropriate and unjust.”