Don’t Judge a Rape by the Survivor’s Reaction
Last week, five men were acquited of gang-raping a 14-year-old girl in Spain, because they had not used violence or intimidation. They didn’t have to — the victim was “in an unconscious state.” In Spain, this is still not sufficient to constitute rape, basically because of one element: she didn’t fight back.
It’s a horrible case, which has sent hundreds of thousands of people out into the streets to protest the country’s sexual assault laws. But it is also something that reveals a wider issue: the way we see rape depends on the victim’s attitude.
This is very unlike any other crime. If someone lets out a nervous laugh during a mugging, no one uses that against them to suggest they wanted to get their phone and wallet stolen at knifepoint. Crimes are not supposed to be defined by the victim’s reaction. But when it comes to rape, women are always suspected of lying. The old myth that “No means Yes” is still a thing.
Some women don’t fight back
Rape victims have a tendency not to behave in the way you would expect them too. They won’t necessarily fight back, firstly because physically freezing is an automatic response to trauma. In a 2017 study of women visiting an emergency rape clinic in Stockholm, 70% reported significant tonic immobility: a temporary and involuntary paralysis stemming from intense fear, reports BBC. “These women hadn’t passively consented. Their bodies had responded in a biologically normal way to a threat.”
Some women may also make the conscious decision not to fight back, so as to limit the harm they endure. In her memoir Lucky, Alice Sebold narrates her violent rape, and how after an initial fight she had changed tack, started to obey, to kiss her rapist back when he commanded her to, to pretend she would never tell anyone and make him promise to do the same.
“He held my life in his hand. Those who say they would rather fight to the death than be raped are fools. I’d rather be raped a thousand times. You do what you have to.”