Psychologists Explain Tonic Immobility in Sexual Abuse Cases



Petir Garda Bhwana

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Indonesians were shocked by the sexual harassment case of a female student being held down by classmates. This incident was recorded in a viral video that sparked public outrage. 

    Apart from the aforementioned case, Psychologist Rosdiana Setyaningrum provided an explanation of why there are many reports of victims unable to instantly react to the sexual abuse they encounter. 

    She pinned this to the surprise factor that would often catch a person off guard and ‘freeze’ which may be known as tonic immobility, or involuntary paralysis, where a person is unable to respond to a violation.

    “There are also moments where that person was so shocked that they are unable to quickly react. Victims of sexual harassment would sometimes experience this sense of sudden confusion, especially if it’s physical abuse or if it’s committed in a group. Let alone the verbal abuse that is generally able to be responded,” said the psychologist. 

    Echoing Rosdiana, psychologist Bunda Romi said she often finds cases where victims are afraid to fight back due to immense fear against the perpetrator’s dominance. 

    “When fear strikes, it basically is a moment when the person is extremely unsettled in facing such an encounter. The person would have to think of a reaction and what their reaction would cause if they have the power. But if they are intimidated or are more inferior power-wise compared to the intimidator, they can eventually be unable to confront the abuse. So it is not a case where the victim consents the act but us due to fear [that they are unable to react to sexual abuse],” said Bunda Romi. 

    The phenomenon of tonic immobility is acknowledged in the 2017 Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica (AOGS) journal where experts recorded 70-percent rape survivors experienced this phenomenon. 

    The Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection Minister, Bintang Puspayoga reminded people to don’t hesitate to report if they witness any form of violence towards women or children to the ministry’s hotline 082125751234.