“I just froze” campaign aims to destroy rape myths and misconceptions

Date: 22nd March 2017
Category: Protection from abuse or neglect

Rape Crisis Scotland has launched a new campaign set to challenge and change common misconceptions that there is a right or wrong way for people to react during or after a rape.

Funded by the Scottish Government and voiced by Daniela Nardini 'I just froze' is centred on two creative animations. The online campaign emphasises that freezing is a common and natural response to rape, challenging prevalent beliefs that 'fight or flight' are the only valid responses to trauma. In doing so, 'I just froze' defies the idea that people are always able to fight back or report rape straight away and helps people to understand why this might be. This understanding is vital to improving public attitudes and responses to survivors of sexual violence across Scotland.

Assumptions about how someone is likely to react to rape can play a significant role in stopping someone from coming forward to speak about what has happened to them, or report it to the police. Rape survivors can delay speaking about what has happened to them for fear that they won't be believed or will be blamed for not fighting back.

There are concerns about the impact that misconceptions about 'normal' responses to rape may play in jury decision making in rape trials. Research suggests enduring and widespread misconceptions about the nature of rape and sexual assault. In particular, research in England using mock jurors found that not fighting back and not reporting the attack straight away influenced jurors' views on the credibility of rape complainers. The research found that most participants in mock juries assumed a rapist would use force, and that a woman would fight back and defend herself. Many also felt that a delay in reporting significantly weakened the prosecution's case.

Recent statistics released by the Scottish Government earlier this year revealed a 16% drop in the number of rape convictions. In 2015-16, 1,809 rapes and attempted rapes were reported to the police, but only 216 were prosecuted. There were 104 convictions. Rape can be a difficult crime to prosecute, particularly given the Scottish requirement for corroboration, but more can be done to improve justice responses to rape in Scotland.

In the Abusive Behaviour & Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, the Scottish Parliament approved the introduction of judicial directions in sexual offence cases. This will involve judges (where relevant) giving juries clear, factual information to help explain that someone might not fight back during an attack, or tell anyone about what they have experienced straight away. The judicial directions come into force at the start of April 2017. They have the potential to improve access to justice for rape survivors. They can help make sure verdicts are based on evidence, instead of being shaped by myths, received wisdom and flawed assumptions about how someone should react to being raped. We must also challenge beliefs and assumptions about rape which are held by Scottish society.