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I Just Froze

'I Just Froze'

'I just froze' is a public awareness campaign from Rape Crisis Scotland which aims to challenge and change common misconceptions that there is a right or wrong way for people to react during or after a rape.

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'So Many Reasons'

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Why do we need this campaign?

Many people think they know how they or someone else would react if they were raped.

It’s often assumed that when a person is assaulted in this way they will (for example) scream or appear hysterical, and that they will fight back.

However, the truth is that nobody knows how they or anyone else will react, and although some people do respond in this way, it is very common for someone who is raped to respond quite differently to what we might expect. The way someone describes how they felt and what they did as an assault took place might surprise you and appear to be the opposite of what you thought. Many survivors describe freezing and feeling unable to move to escape, or to cry out or fight back, and this response is just as normal and natural as any other.

Rape is a traumatic event, and the way we react to trauma is not something that is controlled by the logical part of our brains: it’s an instinctive response, which happens when a more primitive part of the brain (the amygdala) takes over when we become aware that something exceptional or dangerous is happening. In a situation like this, the brain automatically goes into survival mode. When this happens, blood and oxygen are diverted to the muscles, and the body is flooded with adrenalin: it’s a process rooted in human evolution, and is something that happens quickly and over which we have no control.

There are three possible survival responses to a traumatic event like rape: fight, flight, or the one that often does not occur to people: freeze. Freezing is probably the survival response with which people are least familiar, and when we think about a scenario involving rape, thoughts of running away (‘flight’) or of fighting back can spring much more readily to mind than the idea of being unable to move or do anything at all. However, in our experience at rape crisis, freezing can be one of the most common reactions during a rape.

Why do we need to know this?

Survivors often fear being judged for their behaviour if they were unable to fight back during a rape. This is something that can stop them coming forward to disclose what has happened to friends or family or to someone else who might be able to offer support. They can also worry about being judged in court and this is something that can make them hesitate, delay or even prevent them altogether from reporting the assault to the police. These fears can be a real barrier to survivors’ chances of receiving support or justice after rape, and it’s important that we do everything we can to understand and overcome them.

The brain’s survival mode can also interfere with the way it processes memory, which means that a survivor may not be able to remember everything that happened and can only recollect fragments of the incident or circumstances. This may change over time, but this response too, is a natural consequence of the way we react to trauma and is in no way an indication that a survivor is not telling the truth. The fear that it might be perceived in that way is, however, something else that can prevent survivors of rape from disclosing or reporting what has happened.

It is very common for survivors, if they do decide to report to the police (many do not) to delay doing so – often for weeks and months, and sometimes for years. Reporting rates in Scotland have seen some improvements in recent years. However the figures recorded by Rape Crisis Centres in Scotland still show very low rates of reporting. In 2019-20 only 52.01% of survivors in touch with Rape Crisis in Scotland had reported their experience to the police.

Remember: there is no right response to rape, and if we want to give survivors the best possible support, and to help them to have proper access to justice, we need to put facts about how trauma can affect the brain after a devastating event like rape before any preconceptions we might have.

Campaign resources

We need YOU to help us make this a campaign that really makes a difference
Here are some ways you can support #IJustFroze:

  • Share and use these #IJustFroze resources across your organisations, platforms & networks.
  • Embed the #IJustFroze campaign videos on your own pages, sites and social media platforms
  • Why not organise a screening of #IJustFroze videos for colleagues or friends?
  • Or feature #IJustFroze in your plans for International Women's Day?
  • Want to download the videos for use where there's no internet access? Just click the Download button underneath I Just Froze and So Many Reasons on Vimeo and save the files locally
  • Give us your views and comments - we'd love to hear what you think.

Come and join us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube,

Here's the #IJustFroze briefing paper/leaflet

Postcards (Click on thumbnail to download pdf)

Related resources

Trauma and the brain: understanding abuse survivors’ responses


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