A judge in Turin, Italy, acquitted a man last month who was accused of sexually assaulting a colleague because the woman did not scream, although she told her attacker "enough" and "stop it."
News outlets are reporting that the alleged victim is now charged for slander. Following country-wide outrage, Justice Minister Andrea Orlando has ordered an investigation into last month's disheartening ruling.
The original case examined events that took place in 2011, when the defendant allegedly threatened to stop providing the victim with work if she did not obey his sexual requests. The man, a 46-year-old Red Cross employee, maintains that the two had consensual sex.
When pressed in court as to why she did not protest more violently, the woman reportedly said that she could have been more forceful, but that "with people that are too strong, I just freeze." Prosecutors have stated that she was sexually abused by her father as a child.
While this ruling is heartbreaking for survivors of sexual assault, their advocates, and their allies, it is sadly status quo. Rape has a low conviction rate across the globe due in no minor part to severe under-reporting and mythologies like the one behind the Turin case.
The judge's decision to not define the sexual acts between the man and woman as rape because she did not cry for help pulls directly from the rape culture playbook: If you don't scream, it's not rape.
In reality, there are studies showing that it is not at all uncommon for those who are being sexually assaulted to go into a state of shock in much the same way terrified mammals do in moments of extreme stress. It's most commonly referred to as "tonic immobility" and describes a temporary paralysis stemming from trauma. While the science behind it is still being researched, it is a reaction many sexual assault survivors report experiencing.
"Some people would argue that... people shouldn't even talk about 'fight or flight,'" Dr. Martin Antony, a Ryerson University psychology professor, told VICE. "They should talk about 'fight, flight, or freezing.'"
As the discussion on rape (very) slowly becomes more public, society's understanding of what constitutes rape is constantly challenged and changed. Just as there is no one way to sexually assault someone, there is no one way to react to being assaulted. Pushing a single narrative onto sexual assault cases allows dangerous perpetrators to walk free and forces survivors to shoulder the blame.
Annagrazia Calabria, an Italian lawmaker, summarized the seething reaction of many in a scathing Facebook post directed at the judge:
"The suffering of those who live through a terrifying and despicable act is not measurable by screams. And certainly, you cannot punish the personal reaction of a woman who is terrified by what is happening to her.”
Banner/thumbnail Credit: Flickr user orangesparrow