Friday, October 23, 2015

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

I am a fan of Law & Order SVU. Now I have confirmation that my fandom is positive for me.

A study has been published that found that exposure to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit is associated with decreased rape myth acceptance and increased intentions to adhere to expressions of sexual consent and refuse unwanted sexual activity.

I like the way that they explore different aspects associated with sexual assault. The bring them to light in a way that the general public will pay attention and inadvertently learn from the experience.

One episode of L&OSVU focused on the the 'freeze' response.

'I was raped.'
'Did you say no.'
'Why not?'
'I don't know.'
'Did you fight back.'
'Why not?'
'I don't know.'

Detective Oliver Benson explains that 'freezing' is a natural response to a threat. It is not a voluntary action and by understanding this it alleviates the post traumatic stress associated with not actively resisting an attack.

Firstly, the natural response is commonly referred to as freezing, however, when instinctive behaviours are considered it is referred to as 'fright' with 'freeze' being the initial 'stop, look, and listen' response. A response that is linked with anxiety, a response that I am all too familiar with.

The freeze/stop, look, and listen response is also referred to as 'attentive immobility.' The 'freeze'/fright response is technically known as 'tonic immobility.' TI is an involuntary catatonic-like state where the person cannot move or speak. It also features numbing of pain and anger affect.

DOB: 'Don't beat yourself up. Freezing is a natural response to a threat. You can't move, talk to say no, or scream out.'
Victim: 'But I could.'

Now you're buggered.

The writers of the L&OSVU episode was informed by a psychologist who specialises in sexual assault trauma. I want to suggest that a further episode is made where other instinctive behavioural responses to a threat are explored. Submission for example.

We are talking about instinctive, meaning without conscious thought, behaviours that have been selected for in nature because they conferred a survival advantage on an individual. The fight-or-flight model only offers two survival behaviours - fight and flight - however, in recent times that limited number of survival behaviours has been challenged.

The freeze/stop, look, and listen, fright/tonic immobility ... faint. Also, submission.

'I didn't say no. I didn't scream. I didn't fight back.' And so the judgements begin. Judgements by first responders, law enforcement, health professionals, judicial system, friends and family, and most destructively of all, by the sexual assault survivor herself leading to post traumatic stress with all its destructive consequences.

I use the term sexual assault survivor deliberately. I'm not one for this politically correct, positive thinking, reinforcing use of terms. A person is a sexual assault survivor because they survived. And how did they survive? Because their inherited survival mechanism kicked in when their survival was threatened.

Here we are talking about emotion, where emotion is thought of as appraisal, subjective feeling, physiological, impulses to action, and behavioural components. This mechanism was selected for in nature because it conferred a survival advantage on an individual. It is found in our amygdala.

But what put humans on top of the food chain was (a) the intervention of the impulse to act component between motivating subjective feelings and behaviours (not stimulus-response, you don't immediately punch your boss when he pisses you off), and (b) our intellect/neocortex.

However, it is our intellect/neocortex that judges ourselves after we've survive a sexual assault that prolongs the trauma long after the actual attack.

I sometimes wonder if Nature sits back and thinks, 'I really didn't think this whole intellect/neocortex thing through.'

I sometimes wonder if Nature would adopt a similar response as Col. Jessup in A Few Good Men:

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man [or woman] who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I'd rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to!

 Who are we to judge the manner of someone's survival? Nature did it's job, the person survived. Just say thank you and go on your way.

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