Corbin and Justin (not their real names) were childhood buddies, best friends and now college roommates. Both were smart business students with even brighter futures. One night, after a wild dance-all-night college party, Justin sexually forced himself on Corbin in, according to Corbin, “the most vile and disrespectful way.” Corbin remembers not breathing and not being able to move. His throat kept tightening, and he knew what was happening, but it just didn’t make sense. He felt like he was drowning. His blood, he thought, was water. He remembers screaming in his head, but doesn’t remember hearing his own voice. The rape was the most horrible thing that ever happened to him. It was even worse than the time he broke his collar bone and several ribs in a jet skiing accident; it was the one time he decided to show off without a life jacket. Months later, Corbin realized his experience really was a thing. Yes, the freeze, as in fight, flight or freeze, has a name: Rape-induced paralysis.
Rape-induced paralysis is similar to tonic immobility in animals. Rape-induced paralysis is a temporary state of motor inhibition that some 12-50% victims of sexual assault experience. Corbin’s reaction during his traumatic experience sounds like the exact opposite of what people might expect. He didn’t fight Justin off, and he couldn’t run away. At the boiling point of sheer terror, the body simply freezes and the mind, from time to time, shuts down. Physically the victim can’t move. Corbin and some like him experience trauma-induced peritraumatic dissociation, a detachment or lack of integration in how information and events are processed during or shortly after a traumatic event. For Corbin, there was a clear gap between reality, timing and what he’s now able to remember.
While most people have an easier time imagining the deer-in-headlights metaphor when it comes to animals (e.g., rodents, sharks, etc.), when the human heart doesn’t contract or seem to beat as quickly (wildly), when blood pressure doesn’t seem to rise, or when the pupils don’t seem to dilate (common signs of extreme stress or trauma), people find it hard to believe. In Corbin’s case, when he shared his experience with a couple of his other closest buddies, they told him ridiculously cruel things such as he “must have wanted it, especially since he just laid there and let it happen.” Corbin says in the last year he’s lost three of his brothers (friends for life) because they stood in judgment and just wouldn’t believe him. He now feels lost and empty. Corbin is still in disbelief and says “none of it makes sense.”
To reach the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline, click here. To reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline, click here. For a list of resources for teens (e.g., Runaways/homeless youth, those thinking about ending it all, and more), click here.