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Neuroscience evidence counters a rape myth

Victims frequently report immobility during rape and sexual assault, often using the term ‘freezing’. Neuroscientific evidence suggests fear and threat can block cortical neural circuits for action control, leading to involuntary immobility. Defence arguments that blame victims for freezing are thus inappropriate and unjust.

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Fig. 1: A hypothesized neural circuit underlying the suspension of voluntary action control during IRSA.


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We are grateful to K. Roelofs, L. Claydon, P. Catley, S. Baker, J. Christensen, C. Gonzalez-Liencres and J.-D. Haynes for advice and comments. P.H. was additionally supported by a Reimar Lüst Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Fritz Thyssen Foundation. Preparatory work was supported by UKRI-AHRC Science in Culture grant to P.H. (award number: 162746). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Patrick Haggard.

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Nature Human Behaviour thanks Anna Möller, Philip Tovote and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Dhawan, E., Haggard, P. Neuroscience evidence counters a rape myth. Nat Hum Behav 7, 835–838 (2023).

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