Tonic Immobility and the Neurobiology of Sexual Assault

Dr. Rebecca Campbell from Michigan State University walks through the trauma to the human organism during a sexual assault – and how the body’s systems for self-preservation that usually recommend to flee or fight might simply freeze. This response is called tonic immobility where the body shuts down during the attack as stress hormones flood the bloodstream.

It is an autonomic response, meaning that it’s uncontrollable. This is not something a victim decides to do. It is a mammalian response. It is evolutionarily wired into us to protect the survival of the organism. Because sometimes the safest thing to do to protect the safety is to fight back. Sometimes the safest thing to do is to flee. Sometimes the stupidest thing to do is to flee because it will incite chase. Therefore, our bodies have been wired for a freeze response too — to play dead, to look dead, because that may be the safest thing for the survival of the organism. So it is a mammalian response that is in all of us — we can’t control it. And it happens in extremely fearful situations.

Watch Dr. Campbell’s arrowing and fascinating presentation and how law enforcement can be trained to recognize the condition when investigating an assault and how to assist the victim in recall and memory consolidation. (via Metafilter)