Dissociation and Other Reactions to Sexual Assault

DoubleAlum

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For those that can't - or refuse - to understand what this young woman experienced, read below. Many of you will call this a crock of crap. Because that's your m.o. in this life. Maybe one of your daughters or loved ones needs to experience this first hand before you begin to understand.




Why many rape victims don't fight or yell

By

James W. Hopper June 23, 2015

James W. Hopper, PhD, is an independent consultant and part-time instructor in psychology in the Department of Psychiatry of Harvard Medical School. He has conducted research on the neurobiology of trauma, and trains investigators, prosecutors, judges, and higher-education professionals on its implications. Here, he offers his explanation of why people don’t always respond to an attack the way others might expect:


By James W. Hopper, PhD

In the midst of sexual assault, the brain’s fear circuitry dominates. The prefrontal cortex can be severely impaired, and all that’s left may be reflexes and habits.

In the Washington Post’s recent series on college sexual assault, many victims describe how they reacted – and did not react – while being assaulted. Another article also published this month, in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, shows that some responses have been programmed into human brains by evolution.


[One in five women say they had unwanted sexual experiences while in college.]



Bringing together the accounts of those who have been assaulted with the neurobiology of trauma can play an essential role in supporting healing and the pursuits of accountability and justice.

For example, freezing is a brain-based response to detecting danger, especially a predator’s attack. Think deer in the headlights.

As one woman told the Post, “I didn’t say no, but I didn’t really know what to do. I just kind of froze.”

Freezing occurs when the amygdala – a crucial structure in the brain’s fear circuitry – detects an attack and signals the brainstem to inhibit movement. It happens in a flash, automatically and beyond conscious control.


It’s a brain response that rapidly shifts the organism into a state of vigilance for incoming attacks and avenues of escape. Eyes widen, pupils dilate. Hearing becomes more acute. The body is primed for fight or flight. But as we shall see, neither fight nor flight necessarily follows.

Simultaneously with the freeze response, the fear circuitry unleashes a surge of “stress chemicals” into the prefrontal cortex, the brain region that allows us to think rationally – to recall the bedroom door is open, or that people are in the dorm room next door, for example, and to make use of that information. But the surge of chemicals rapidly impairs the prefrontal cortex. That’s because, despite our dominant role on the planet now, we evolved as prey, and when a lion or tiger is upon us, stopping to think is fatal.

Indeed, no one understands better than the military that intense fear impairs our prefrontal cortex and capacity for reason.

When bullets are flying and blood is flowing, you had better have some really effective habit learning to rely upon. That’s why combat training is rigorous and repetitive – to burn in habits of effectively firing weapons, executing combat formations, etc.


But what if you’re being sexually assaulted and there’s no effective habit learning to fall back on?

What if you’re a woman and the only habits your brain cues up are those you’ve always relied upon to ward off unwanted sexual advances – like saying, “I have to go home now” or “Your girlfriend will find out”? Those phrases, and passive behaviors that go with them, may be your only responses, until it’s too late.

Countless victims of sexual assault describe just such responses. Too often police officers, college administrators, even friends and family think to themselves – and say out loud – “Why didn’t you run out of the room?” “Why didn’t you scream?”

For those who assume a functional prefrontal cortex – including many victims as they look back on what happened – passive habit responses can be baffling. They seem exactly the opposite of how they surely would – or should – have responded.


But when the fear circuitry takes over and the prefrontal cortex is impaired, habits and reflexes may be all we’ve got.

And if the fear circuitry perceives escape as impossible and resistance as futile, then not fight or flight, but extreme survival reflexes (which scientists call “animal defense responses”) will take over. These can activate automatically when the body is in a predator’s grip – and when, as half of rape victims report, we fear death or serious injury.

One such response is tonic immobility. In freezing, brain and body are primed for action. But in tonic immobility, the body is literally paralyzed by fear – unable to move, speak, or cry out. The body goes rigid. Hands may go numb.

Collapsed immobility is another. Think possum, playing dead. To see what this looks like (and get a humorous break from this difficult topic), you can watch the YouTube videos that come up for “passes out on Slingshot ride.”

Some people describe feeling “like a rag doll” as the perpetrator did whatever he wanted. And thanks to rapid drops in heart rate and blood pressure, some become faint and may even pass out. Some describe feeling “sleepy.”

Too often, from precinct stations to courtrooms, victims are met with disbelief: How could it be rape if you were sleepy?!

Another, more common reflexive response is dissociation: spacing out, feeling unreal, disconnected from the horrible emotions and sensations of such an intimate violation.

Unless someone is drugged or intoxicated into unconsciousness, eventually the brain’s fear circuitry will detect the attack.

Most victims will freeze, if only briefly. Some will fight back, effectively. Some will resist in habitual, passive ways. Some will suddenly give in and cry. Others will become paralyzed, become faint, pass out or dissociate.

Few who have experienced these responses realize that they are brain reactions to attack and terror.

They blame themselves for “failing” to resist. They feel ashamed. (Men especially may see themselves as cowards and feel like they’re not real men.) They may tell no one, even during an investigation. Sadly, many investigators and prosecutors still don’t know some or all of these brain-based responses.

None of these responses – in women or men – entails consent or cowardice.

None is evidence of resistance too insufficient to warrant our respect and compassion.

They are responses we should expect from brains dominated by the circuitry of fear (just as we should expect fragmented and incomplete memories).

May the day come when everyone who knows someone who has been sexually assaulted – which is all of us, whether we know that yet or not – understands these basic ways that our brains can react to such attacks and uses this knowledge to foster healing and justice.
 

GringaGopher

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Thanks for this post and I have listened to both men and women describe these feelings.
 

RolGnav

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Can you also post up an article/paper on the falsely accused also? I mean I'm sure there has been situations where people weren't really raped but ended up saying they were, and ruining the accused's life
 

Gogogopher

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For those that can't - or refuse - to understand what this young woman experienced, read below. Many of you will call this a crock of crap. Because that's your m.o. in this life. Maybe one of your daughters or loved ones needs to experience this first hand before you begin to understand.




Why many rape victims don't fight or yell

By

James W. Hopper June 23, 2015

James W. Hopper, PhD, is an independent consultant and part-time instructor in psychology in the Department of Psychiatry of Harvard Medical School. He has conducted research on the neurobiology of trauma, and trains investigators, prosecutors, judges, and higher-education professionals on its implications. Here, he offers his explanation of why people don’t always respond to an attack the way others might expect:


By James W. Hopper, PhD

In the midst of sexual assault, the brain’s fear circuitry dominates. The prefrontal cortex can be severely impaired, and all that’s left may be reflexes and habits.

In the Washington Post’s recent series on college sexual assault, many victims describe how they reacted – and did not react – while being assaulted. Another article also published this month, in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, shows that some responses have been programmed into human brains by evolution.


[One in five women say they had unwanted sexual experiences while in college.]



Bringing together the accounts of those who have been assaulted with the neurobiology of trauma can play an essential role in supporting healing and the pursuits of accountability and justice.

For example, freezing is a brain-based response to detecting danger, especially a predator’s attack. Think deer in the headlights.

As one woman told the Post, “I didn’t say no, but I didn’t really know what to do. I just kind of froze.”

Freezing occurs when the amygdala – a crucial structure in the brain’s fear circuitry – detects an attack and signals the brainstem to inhibit movement. It happens in a flash, automatically and beyond conscious control.


It’s a brain response that rapidly shifts the organism into a state of vigilance for incoming attacks and avenues of escape. Eyes widen, pupils dilate. Hearing becomes more acute. The body is primed for fight or flight. But as we shall see, neither fight nor flight necessarily follows.

Simultaneously with the freeze response, the fear circuitry unleashes a surge of “stress chemicals” into the prefrontal cortex, the brain region that allows us to think rationally – to recall the bedroom door is open, or that people are in the dorm room next door, for example, and to make use of that information. But the surge of chemicals rapidly impairs the prefrontal cortex. That’s because, despite our dominant role on the planet now, we evolved as prey, and when a lion or tiger is upon us, stopping to think is fatal.

Indeed, no one understands better than the military that intense fear impairs our prefrontal cortex and capacity for reason.

When bullets are flying and blood is flowing, you had better have some really effective habit learning to rely upon. That’s why combat training is rigorous and repetitive – to burn in habits of effectively firing weapons, executing combat formations, etc.


But what if you’re being sexually assaulted and there’s no effective habit learning to fall back on?

What if you’re a woman and the only habits your brain cues up are those you’ve always relied upon to ward off unwanted sexual advances – like saying, “I have to go home now” or “Your girlfriend will find out”? Those phrases, and passive behaviors that go with them, may be your only responses, until it’s too late.

Countless victims of sexual assault describe just such responses. Too often police officers, college administrators, even friends and family think to themselves – and say out loud – “Why didn’t you run out of the room?” “Why didn’t you scream?”

For those who assume a functional prefrontal cortex – including many victims as they look back on what happened – passive habit responses can be baffling. They seem exactly the opposite of how they surely would – or should – have responded.


But when the fear circuitry takes over and the prefrontal cortex is impaired, habits and reflexes may be all we’ve got.

And if the fear circuitry perceives escape as impossible and resistance as futile, then not fight or flight, but extreme survival reflexes (which scientists call “animal defense responses”) will take over. These can activate automatically when the body is in a predator’s grip – and when, as half of rape victims report, we fear death or serious injury.

One such response is tonic immobility. In freezing, brain and body are primed for action. But in tonic immobility, the body is literally paralyzed by fear – unable to move, speak, or cry out. The body goes rigid. Hands may go numb.

Collapsed immobility is another. Think possum, playing dead. To see what this looks like (and get a humorous break from this difficult topic), you can watch the YouTube videos that come up for “passes out on Slingshot ride.”

Some people describe feeling “like a rag doll” as the perpetrator did whatever he wanted. And thanks to rapid drops in heart rate and blood pressure, some become faint and may even pass out. Some describe feeling “sleepy.”

Too often, from precinct stations to courtrooms, victims are met with disbelief: How could it be rape if you were sleepy?!

Another, more common reflexive response is dissociation: spacing out, feeling unreal, disconnected from the horrible emotions and sensations of such an intimate violation.

Unless someone is drugged or intoxicated into unconsciousness, eventually the brain’s fear circuitry will detect the attack.

Most victims will freeze, if only briefly. Some will fight back, effectively. Some will resist in habitual, passive ways. Some will suddenly give in and cry. Others will become paralyzed, become faint, pass out or dissociate.

Few who have experienced these responses realize that they are brain reactions to attack and terror.

They blame themselves for “failing” to resist. They feel ashamed. (Men especially may see themselves as cowards and feel like they’re not real men.) They may tell no one, even during an investigation. Sadly, many investigators and prosecutors still don’t know some or all of these brain-based responses.

None of these responses – in women or men – entails consent or cowardice.

None is evidence of resistance too insufficient to warrant our respect and compassion.

They are responses we should expect from brains dominated by the circuitry of fear (just as we should expect fragmented and incomplete memories).

May the day come when everyone who knows someone who has been sexually assaulted – which is all of us, whether we know that yet or not – understands these basic ways that our brains can react to such attacks and uses this knowledge to foster healing and justice.

Great information
 



Some Day...Maybe

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Wow! Excellent article! I believe they call it enlightenment? People know right from wrong, and people know what these guys did is severely wrong.


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Some Day...Maybe

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Can you also post up an article/paper on the falsely accused also? I mean I'm sure there has been situations where people weren't really raped but ended up saying they were, and ruining the accused's life

Why can't you do that tough guy? Too lazy?


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Spoofin

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Did someone on here have the position that she couldn't have been raped because she didn't fight or yell?


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short ornery norwegian

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This story has a lot of grey area in it.

If you choose to believe the accuser, that is your privilege. The EOAA report clearly believes the accuser, and does not believe the players. But - it is not as cut-and-dried as some seem to think. It is completely possible to read the same evidence - or read the police report - and believe there was consent - at least for Djam and the recruit.

The accuser admits she was drinking, and does not remember portions of the evening clearly. That does NOT excuse the players' behavior - but it does create reasonable doubt as to whether the accuser's account is accurate.

People do remember events incorrectly. In cases of "recovered memory," people have convinced themselves that they remember incidents that never took place.

Look - I wasn't there. I don't know what happened in that bedroom. Maybe the accuser's account is 100% accurate. Maybe it's 75% accurate. Maybe it's 50% accurate. Maybe the players are lying their butts off. I don't know. And neither do you.

I just don't understand how people can be so certain about what happened, when the actual participants aren't certain.
 



stocker08

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Crock of crap.

This type of assumption is a dangerous precedence to set. It allows any female to make an accusation without the need for evidence. The ability for a "victim" to state that they were experiencing any type of dissociation in order to "prove" sexual assault is very scary. Especially since drunk college students tend to be promiscuous.
 

DoubleAlum

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Did someone on here have the position that she couldn't have been raped because she didn't fight or yell?


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You rarely understand the point and here is yet another example. I pity you.
 

GopherSteak

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Crock of crap.

This type of assumption is a dangerous precedence to set. It allows any female to make an accusation without the need for evidence. The ability for a "victim" to state that they were experiencing any type of dissociation in order to "prove" sexual assault is very scary. Especially since drunk college students tend to be promiscuous.

That's the hard part of all of this. Pretending to be raped is impossible to tell between that or really raped. A girl could change her mind afterwards and the guy's screwed. I really think Kaler did the right thing here though. Throwing that stuff under the rug is going to hurt is worse in the long run. Whether or not she lied I guess doesn't matter anymore since the University believes her. The whole situation is just sad.
 

minny01

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This story has a lot of grey area in it.

If you choose to believe the accuser, that is your privilege. The EOAA report clearly believes the accuser, and does not believe the players. But - it is not as cut-and-dried as some seem to think. It is completely possible to read the same evidence - or read the police report - and believe there was consent - at least for Djam and the recruit.

The accuser admits she was drinking, and does not remember portions of the evening clearly. That does NOT excuse the players' behavior - but it does create reasonable doubt as to whether the accuser's account is accurate.

People do remember events incorrectly. In cases of "recovered memory," people have convinced themselves that they remember incidents that never took place.

Look - I wasn't there. I don't know what happened in that bedroom. Maybe the accuser's account is 100% accurate. Maybe it's 75% accurate. Maybe it's 50% accurate. Maybe the players are lying their butts off. I don't know. And neither do you.

I just don't understand how people can be so certain about what happened, when the actual participants aren't certain.

I agree with you. The only things that we can be certain of are the videos. The authorities saw them all and declined to press any charges, believing what took place was consensual. The EOAA, who did not watch all of the videos because the woman would not let them, believed her and said that it was sexual assault. One group of these folks are professionals and unbiased, the other group is not and may have an ax to grind with the football program.
 



DoubleAlum

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Crock of crap.

This type of assumption is a dangerous precedence to set. It allows any female to make an accusation without the need for evidence. The ability for a "victim" to state that they were experiencing any type of dissociation in order to "prove" sexual assault is very scary. Especially since drunk college students tend to be promiscuous.

Well, if there is karma in this world, you or a loved one will get to experience this first hand.
 

DoubleAlum

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I agree with you. The only things that we can be certain of are the videos. The authorities saw them all and declined to press any charges, believing what took place was consensual. The EOAA, who did not watch all of the videos because the woman would not let them, believed her and said that it was sexual assault. One group of these folks are professionals and unbiased, the other group is not and may have an ax to grind with the football program.

A few minutes of video in a 90 minute ordeal. That makes a lot of sense. Sounds like you didn't read the report.
 

saintpaulguy

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If you are guy number three topping a woman on the blob, you might think, hmmmm, I might need to triple check this I'd ok, with all the cheering section and all.
 

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Well, if there is karma in this world, you or a loved one will get to experience this first hand.
Wow, what a prickish, self righteous thing to say. Karma goes both ways big shot. Just because someone doesn't follow your line of thought doesn't mean they or a loved one should experience sexual assault.

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minny01

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A few minutes of video in a 90 minute ordeal. That makes a lot of sense. Sounds like you didn't read the report.

You are only buying one side of the story, which the KSTP reporter said was extremely opinionated, and not taking into account the work that was done by the authorities in not charging any of the players.

And, believe me, I'm not saying that what they did was right and I would have long suspensions for the 5 of them involved.
 

stocker08

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That's the hard part of all of this. Pretending to be raped is impossible to tell between that or really raped. A girl could change her mind afterwards and the guy's screwed. I really think Kaler did the right thing here though. Throwing that stuff under the rug is going to hurt is worse in the long run. Whether or not she lied I guess doesn't matter anymore since the University believes her. The whole situation is just sad.

I wasn't even referring to someone pretending to be raped. College students having fun the night before and waking up confused and hungover is common. For the most part.....these consensual acts are assumed as such. Sometimes.....a "victim" will call rape since they couldn't remember exactly what happened. It's a scary precedent to set. Myself and most of my close friends could have been labeled sex offenders under these assumptions had the girls decided out of nowhere that they did not consent.
 


GuyFawkes

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Can you also post up an article/paper on the falsely accused also? I mean I'm sure there has been situations where people weren't really raped but ended up saying they were, and ruining the accused's life

yes, studies have found only 2% are falsely accused. Read the report, she didn't even want to testify because of fear but was encouraged by her mom, she had nothing to gain by accusing these players, they are just no name college players with no money.
 

Spoofin

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You rarely understand the point and here is yet another example. I pity you.

So when the OP tells takes a shot at folks and says read "this" the title of that article isn't the point? Okey dokey.


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Section2

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Crock of crap.

This type of assumption is a dangerous precedence to set. It allows any female to make an accusation without the need for evidence. The ability for a "victim" to state that they were experiencing any type of dissociation in order to "prove" sexual assault is very scary. Especially since drunk college students tend to be promiscuous.

100% agree


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I wasn't even referring to someone pretending to be raped. College students having fun the night before and waking up confused and hungover is common. For the most part.....these consensual acts are assumed as such.

"RS gave A6 oral sex. A6 was standing up and RS was leaning off the bed.
RS stopped giving A6 oral sex once he got an erection."

Clearly this was rape according to some...

I think we need to set a clear standard that blowing a guy until he has an erection is 'implied consent' whether she signs a document before further sex acts occur or verbally states "Yes - I agree to engage in vaginal intercourse with you. I am entering this agreement of my own free will and am not under the influence of drugs".

With the standards some use on here, you have to wonder if they ever had sex. Although it flies in the face of U policies - I think most guys attempt an act (rubbing a teat, etc) and if the girl does not object verbally or physically - take it as a sign of consent. The U standard turns this into a game of consent questions or force the guy to be a mind reader. I can understand the guy hitting the 2 hole without talking about this prior - but the way the policies read - you need to get consent before switching from missionary to doggystyle. This is a ridiculous standard which just creates further grey areas in believing a victim's claims. Remember 'no means no' - well, that has changed to 'if I think no at any point in time even without communicating that to you and you did not read my mind, you are a rapist'. Hopefully this situation will lead to reforms. Not blaming the girl, but saying 'no' could have stopped everything in its tracks - so why are we not teaching this any longer?
 



GuyFawkes

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"RS gave A6 oral sex. A6 was standing up and RS was leaning off the bed.
RS stopped giving A6 oral sex once he got an erection."

Clearly this was rape according to some...

I think we need to set a clear standard that blowing a guy until he has an erection is 'implied consent' whether she signs a document before further sex acts occur or verbally states "Yes - I agree to engage in vaginal intercourse with you. I am entering this agreement of my own free will and am not under the influence of drugs".

With the standards some use on here, you have to wonder if they ever had sex. Although it flies in the face of U policies - I think most guys attempt an act (rubbing a teat, etc) and if the girl does not object verbally or physically - take it as a sign of consent. The U standard turns this into a game of consent questions or force the guy to be a mind reader. I can understand the guy hitting the 2 hole without talking about this prior - but the way the policies read - you need to get consent before switching from missionary to doggystyle. This is a ridiculous standard which just creates further grey areas in believing a victim's claims. Remember 'no means no' - well, that has changed to 'if I think no at any point in time even without communicating that to you and you did not read my mind, you are a rapist'. Hopefully this situation will lead to reforms. Not blaming the girl, but saying 'no' could have stopped everything in its tracks - so why are we not teaching this any longer?

Did't start out as rape, she even admits to that, but it turned into rape. Even that players seem to indicate that themselves.

2 recalled, "from the stuff she said, it didn't seem like she
was into it. She said something and [the men present] decided it was messed up . . . She said
something that made it. seem like it wasn't the right thing to be doing.

The lights were turned off. RS saw A12 and then said, "I don't want to"
and "this is too many people" and "don't send people in here." RS repeatedly said that
she was in pain. A5 did not respond by stopping or changing his activities. A12
reported that it did not look like A5 was doing anything out of the ordinary with RS
A12 did not think tl1at RS . was trying to physically push AS away. A12 ultimately
concluded that "it didn't feel right , .. Sometimes it didn't seem like she was into it."
 


csom_1991

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Did't start out as rape, she even admits to that, but it turned into rape. Even that players seem to indicate that themselves.

We agree that it did not start out as a rape - the second part is in question for me. I would like to see the player transcripts before accepting the EOAA summary of cherry-picked quotes to condemn them. For instance - the girl saying "I don't want to" could have referred to any number of this - maybe the guy wanted to hit the 2-hole or give a pearl necklace - WE DON'T KNOW. You cannot construe this out of context player comment as provided by the EOAA as meaning the girl was saying no to all forms of sexual contact without applying a lot of assumptions. At this point - you are asking people to recall words and feelings - and apply context to them long after the fact. If it was cut and dried - there would have been charges. This is all pretty much a grey area for me other than the consented threesome that started the whole situation.

I would also add to your point 'Did't start out as rape, she even admits to that' - I want to see the initial police report before I believe she stated it started as consensual but turned into rape. Based on police action and her not remembering the video - I think her initial version to police differed widely from what she told the EOAA.
 




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