Groundbreaking Study Calls for Neuroscientific Evidence to Combat Victim Blaming in Sexual Assault Cases

Groundbreaking Study Calls for Neuroscientific Evidence to Combat Victim Blaming in Sexual Assault Cases

...By Lola Smith for TDPel Media.

A groundbreaking study suggests that rape victims can experience a “freezing” response due to fear, challenging the misconception that victims should fight or flee their attackers.


Experts argue that neuroscientific evidence should be presented in court to help jurors understand the involuntary immobility experienced by victims during sexual assault.

Challenging Victim Blaming:

Psychologists have observed that women are sometimes blamed for their lack of resistance or attempts to escape during assaults.

Professor Patrick Haggard, the corresponding author of the study, emphasizes the importance of recognizing involuntary immobility as a valid response during rape and sexual assault.

By acknowledging this response, inappropriate victim blaming can be prevented, and society can be made aware of the vital role of active consent.

Misrepresentation of Immobility:

The research highlights case reports from Australia and the United States, where defense lawyers and judges “misrepresented” immobility during rape attacks.

The absence of visible signs of struggle led to blame being shifted onto the victims.


However, the study explains that fear and threat can cause victims to become “frozen,” unable to move or cry out.

Understanding Involuntary Immobility:

Studies estimate that around three in ten women experience sexual assault or rape in their lifetime.

Of those who seek medical help, 70 percent report being unable to move or call for help.

In such cases, immobility is entirely involuntary, making blame inappropriate.

Neuroscientific experiments reveal that in response to threats, the brain can block the neural circuits responsible for voluntary body movement.

Addressing Legal Misconceptions:

The study argues that legal definitions of rape and sexual assault are centered around the absence of consent.

However, victims’ reports of non-consent are often questioned in court, based on unfounded stereotypes of how a “real” victim should behave.

Perpetrators may claim consent based on the absence of resistance.


By utilizing neuroscientific findings, these myths can be debunked, preventing them from being used as defense arguments and ensuring justice for victims.

Current State of Rape Cases:

In England and Wales, over 70,000 rapes were recorded by the police during 2021-2022.

Shockingly, only three percent of these cases resulted in charges.

The researchers behind the study hope that their findings, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, will drive further research in this neglected area of the criminal justice system.


The study sheds light on the involuntary immobility experienced by rape victims and calls for a better understanding of this response in the legal system.

By incorporating neuroscientific evidence into sexual assault cases, the study aims to challenge victim-blaming narratives and ensure justice for survivors.


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