Our Legal System Punishes Women For Their Neurological Responses To Assault

Steph Auteri
Sep 20, 2016 · 8 min read
Vimeo

A woman’s believability when reporting sexual abuse is undermined by the very automatic neurological responses that are in place to protect her.

WWhen women report a sexual assault, they’re often faced with skepticism about how loudly and seriously they said “no.” Police, judges, and other observers investigate the quality of that “no,” looking for evidence of screams and fighting back. If they didn’t say “no” loud enough, women are often held accountable for their own assault.

Passive acceptance can indicate that someone is gripped with fear.

The Mind-Body Response to Sexual Assault

There are a number of neurobiological responses to trauma that serve to protect us. The freeze response is one of them. This happens almost instantly after the amygdala — a set of neurons in the brain that plays a key role in both our fear and pleasure responses — detects danger. When this occurs, we stop, and our sensory mechanisms go into vigilance. Our eyes get bigger. Our pupils dilate. Our ears become more sensitive. “Everything becomes focused on perceiving what the threat might be, and what the possibilities are for escape,” says James W. Hopper, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who advises and trains a variety of professionals on the neurobiology of trauma.

Women Are Undermined by Their Own Neurobiological Responses

Unfortunately, while all of these tactics and reflexive responses can serve to protect a woman in the moment, they can also make it difficult for her to later find justice. “For a perpetrator,” says Bliss, “the best defense is to say the sex was consensual. Then it’s up to [the victim] to convince authorities otherwise.”

The Establishment

The conversation is much more interesting when everyone has a voice. Media funded and run by women; new content daily.

Steph Auteri

Written by

Writer with a focus on women’s health and sexuality / author of A DIRTY WORD

The Establishment

The conversation is much more interesting when everyone has a voice. Media funded and run by women; new content daily.

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