One of the most widely used arguments in rape trials is that the victim did not survive the assault (did not flee or fight back against her attackers). Today, a study from the University College of London (UCL) warns that this response has a neuroscientific basis.
In keeping with the results, the scientific study calls for laws to take into account neuroscientific evidence that suggests that in rape or sexual assault, fear and intimidation can make victims physically incapable of responding to the assault.
The research, published this Monday in Nature Human Behaviour, is by University College London (UCL) alumni Professors Patrick Haggard and Abani Dhawan.
It is believed that 30% of women are sexually assaulted or raped in their lifetime.
70 percent of women who went to the emergency department after being assaulted said they felt “frozen,” unable to move or scream, during the exam.
The study cites legal precedents such as the R v Lennox case (2018) in Australia, in which defense counsel questioned the victim because she did not resist or show signs of a fight. For this lawyer it was clear: The victim allowed the sexual assault, it was her fault.
However, the researchers argue that the victim’s immobility may have been entirely involuntary, in which case blame is inappropriate.
Research has shown that when threatened, the brain’s response may include blocking neural circuits that voluntarily control body movement.
Many animals are paralyzed by a mild threat, leaving them better prepared for a quick fight-or-flight response. However, upon immediate and serious danger, the behavior may change to prolonged immobility in which the body completely freezes or becomes limp.
Similar processes occur in humans, and questionnaire studies have shown that victims of sexual assault often report being unable to move or scream during the attack, even when not physically restrained or immobile.
But this lack of struggle is often used by defenders of abusers and rapists who argue that lack of resistance equates to consent. But if the victim is “involuntarily immobilized,” this argument is flawed, the study warns.
For Haggard, Professor of Psychology and Linguistics at UCL, “The law has long recognized the defense of ‘loss of control’ and may provide for reduced liability in specific circumstances where it is shown that the action was without control. Swayamsevak”.
“After reviewing the neuroscientific evidence, we suggest that involuntary immobility during rape and sexual assault should be treated equally” And to stop unfairly blaming victims.
“It is necessary to draw society’s attention to the critical importance of ‘active consent'”, the scientists conclude.
Rape and sexual assault can have devastating consequences for both individuals and societies.
Police in England and Wales recorded more than 70,000 rapes in 2021-2022 but only 3% led to a charge.
“Legal definitions of rape and sexual assault are based on lack of consent”, But, courts often question this and introduce “unproven stereotypes about the behavior of the ‘real’ victim,” Dhavan said.
And with this tactic, “the aggressor can claim they assumed the victim was consenting because she did not resist,” he stresses.
“We must use neuroscientific findings to prevent these myths from serving as defense arguments and to ensure justice for victims.”