Freezing and Sexual Assault — Further Research

by Crystal Paradis-Catanzaro

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month approaches, I hope we’re all about to learn more about how to prevent sexual assault and get better as a society at supporting survivors. In that spirit, I wrote about the “freeze” response in my most recent op-ed for Seacoast Sunday (Fosters Daily Democrat/The Portsmouth Herald), Freezing: A Common Response to Sexual Assault.

In my article, I wrote about my recent discovery of freezing as a very common response to trauma at Neoteric Dance Collaborative‘s One Billion Rising event at The Music Hall:

During the show, ballet dancer Lissa Curtis shared her story of freezing in response to a sexual assault, and said “this happens with more than 90 percent of women.”

Freezing was my body’s reaction, too, during a sexual assault that happened to me when I was in college, but I had never before heard that this was a legitimate, documented response to trauma. The difference this knowledge made to me, even over a decade later, was overwhelming. People can tell you repeatedly that something is not your fault, but if the generally assumed behavior of a threatened person is fighting and struggling, it’s hard to come to terms with exactly whose fault it is if your body just simply shuts down. (Read full article.)

There are many ways that a greater awareness of this physiological reaction would benefit us all, not the least of which is breaking down the “victim script” we expect rape survivors to follow. I’ve already heard from women who have had this experience but simply, like me, not realized that it was such a common physical phenomenon. It’s a documented PTSD res
ponse, and knowing that helps people reach out for help.

The more research I found, on sites like the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Prevention Innovations Resource Center, and our local domestic and sexual violence support organization, Haven, the more I realized that sexual assault centers and professional psychologists and psychiatrists know are already talking about this response — and they’re trained to provide help. But it’s not yet being talked about enough in the general media, and if a survivor doesn’t know that they experienced a PTSD symptom, they may not know that there is help to be found, so they may not seek it.

I’ve also published a version of this article on Medium, where I’ve added additional resources and links to research that I found helpful as I researched this topic for this article. I hope you’ll find it helpful, too, and share it with everyone you know.

Read the full article on Medium, with additional research and resources from The Affirmative Consent Project and Joyful Heart FoundationDid you know that freezing is a common response to sexual assault?

For the op-ed published in Foster’s, view the article on Freezing: A Common Response to Sexual Assault

The more people know what an actual common response looks like, the less they’ll be inclined to blame a sexual assault victim for “not fighting back.” And the more they’ll be inclined to provide much-needed support.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month is the entire month of April — follow the hashtags #SAAM, #SexualAssualtAwarenessMonth and #SAMM2016 this month to keep learning and sharing — and if you find more awareness-building resources online, please link to them below in the comments. Thank you for reading, and spreading the word.