In an article with a really well-crafted headline, “The Provability Gap,” and a trigger warning, “Warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault.” some detectives in the Austin Police Department explain why cops get sexual assault wrong. Beyond repeating the usual debunked stats that reporters effortlessly embrace, the story is an homage to “trauma-informed” policing.
The Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice defines trauma-informed care as identifying and limiting potential triggers to reduce retraumatization. In other words, it’s a form of sensitivity training.
“If you don’t understand how deeply personal the crime of rape is, then you don’t need to be doing this work,” said Elizabeth Donegan, a 26-year veteran of the Austin Police Department and former head of the APD Sex Crimes Unit.
This is simultaneously true and outrageously false. There may be no crime more personal than rape, and there may be no victim in greater need of sensitivity by police than a rape victim. But what remains buried under the sensitivity is the initial question: Did a rape occur?
The “trauma informed” approach is not to ask, not to question, but to believe. To question whether a victim who claims to have been raped was in fact raped is to retraumatize her. Nobody wants to retraumatize a rape victim, but then the question of whether she’s a rape victim is never probed. And if there’s a rape victim, there’s a rape perpetrator, but if there was no rape, then the man falsely accused is the victim. Who is the victim would seem to be a critical question, but “trauma informed” policing says it’s the woman and should it be the falsely accused man, too bad, so sad. Take a bullet for the cause, guy.
But the article introduces a new phrase to the lexicon of excuses.
“Most people think that if you experience a rape, or an attack of some kind, that people are going to run away or they’re going to fight back, but that’s traditionally not true,” said Kristen Lenau, co-founder of the Survivors Justice Project.
For more than a decade, Lenau has been working with people who have been affected by violence and trauma. She says victims tend to experience rape as a life-threatening incident, which means they will have some sort of survival response. This includes flight, fight or freezing.
The survival response of “fight or flight” has long been documented in medical scholarship. But if two “F’s” are good, aren’t three better?
“People will do what they need to do to survive,” Lenau said. For women, in most cases “that means a sense of tonic immobility, or a freeze response.”
Not only does this validate “tonic immobility,” claimed as a neuro-biologically proven phenomenon, although it’s not, but it’s now happening “for women, in most cases.” Not for men. Not sometimes. And it’s riding the coattails of the long-established and conclusively proven “fight or flight” response by the creation of this cool new phrase, “flight, fight or freezing.” Since the first two words are accepted, how easy is it to slip a new third word in there, especially when it’s alliterative, and who doesn’t love alliteration?
This isn’t an argument that no one freezes, or that freezing isn’t a possible reaction to trauma. It may well be, even if it’s now “proven” by anecdotal evidence and a social science study designed to prove its existence masquerading as neuro-biology. But trying to turn this shiny new third “F” into not merely another all-purpose excuse to rationalize away any and every act and omission, but a predominant reaction, serves only to further bastardize the problem.
False rape accusations may be as high as 64.7% (and possibly higher, but it’s impossible to say), even though the lie that it’s below 9% continues to be repeated. The rationalizations, such as good memory proves guilt as does bad, wrong or no memory, such that there is no fact, no failure, that disproves guilt on the part of the accuser now has a new phrase: “flight, fight or freeze,” adding another layer to the excuses that prevent objective determination of whether a horrific crime has, in fact, occurred, and whether the real victim in any particular case is the falsely accused.