Why Doesn’t She Just Fight Back?


There are many reasons why a rape victim doesn’t, or doesn’t ‘appear to’ fight back.

Firstly, the appearance of not fighting back. She may well have fought back against her attacker, but in the men’s terms of fighting back, it is ‘invisible’. She, like most women, probably lacks actual fighting experience, and therefore uses more spontaneous methods of self defence or attack (not ‘recognised’ fighting techniques, like punches).

Many women do not fight back against their attacker. She may ‘just’ struggle as a form of resistance to the attack, or give initial or constant verbal protests against the assault. Or, she may ‘appear’ to acquiesce.

In this last category, of ‘not fighting back’, it is a survival strategy. Women are not stupid. They know (whether consciously or subconsciously) that they are ‘outgunned’ by his weight, muscle mass, and possibly even fight experience. Let’s face it, it is the equivalent of putting a heavy-weight boxer in the ring with a feather-weight – hardly a fair contest. In the land of men, they recognise this in their sports, but not in the Law. Because, under the Law, men and women are seen as an adults, and therefore ‘equal’. What is never taken into account in the Law is this physical discrepancy. This is well illustrated in cases of self defence (particularly in domestic violence cases) where the woman ‘levels the playing field’ by using a weapon. Because, in the ‘rules’ of self defence, you may only use a like-for-like arsenal. If he has a knife, you can use a knife (but not a gun). If he has a gun, you may use a gun. But if he is unarmed, then the use of any form of weaponry by the woman, is regarded as ‘not self defence’. The self defence ‘rules’ are men’s rules, designed in resolving deputes between men – those who are more equally matched physically. That is why if a woman kills her abusive spouse, attacks often appear ‘pre-meditated’, for even though he may have raped and beaten her for last five or twenty years, it is her seizing a moment of opportunity (and possibly weapon) when he is vulnerable, that is not recognised by Man’s Law. She knows from years of experience, she is no physical match for him in an altercation.

Which brings me to acquiescence, or apparent acquiescence, as a survival strategy, especially in rape. There are two categories here, stranger rape (less than 20%) and acquaintance rape (over 80%). In stranger rape she may appear to acquiesce because he is an ‘unknown quantity’, she doesn’t know how much (more) he is going to hurt her, or even kill her, if she resists or fights back. In the acquaintance category there are two modes, first victimisation and repeat victimisation. In repeat victimisation she has learnt through experience that she is no physical match for him, and submits. This is not, definitely not, the same as consent, and is still rape. In a first victimisation of acquaintance rape, probably either ‘date rape’ or someone the victim knows such as a trusted friend, then she may be reluctant to inflict injury on someone she cares about, even though he has, or is about to, hurt her.

Compliance is a valid survival strategy, but will definitely work against the rape victim in Court. This is perhaps why so many rapes, mainly acquaintance rapes, do not even get reported.

I mentioned domestic violence because I regard DV and rape as part of the same continuum of violence against women. There are many parallels, most notably in the conviction rates for both – under 6% (closer to 5% actually). In Court, it is ‘her word against his’ (HWAH), and in men’s Courts, it is HIS that will be taken over HERS, unless there is other physical evidence to the contrary.

For women, it is, and always has been, a case of survival first, justice second (if at all).

Further reading on the women who do fight back in cases of domestic violence.


6 Responses to “Why Doesn’t She Just Fight Back?”

  1. And very often women simply ‘freeze’.

    It’s like you know you’re going to die. Someone else has complete control of you and their intentions towards you aren’t kind. They want to hurt you – badly. They may want to kill you. They can kill you if they want to. You do not have control of what happens to you – they do.

    Fear and helplessness – you freeze. Kind of leave your body because it’s not yours now, anyway – you don’t have control of it. Remove yourself from it…shut down ….go somewhere else. Some part of you says “I don’t want to witness my own death”.

    And that, I think, is one of the hardest things for police officers, judges, juries and the Great British Public to understand. That abject fear.

  2. Hi,

    I’ve just finished reading a book by Mona Eliason on men’s violence against women. According to the research she has consulted, ‘fighting back’ puts women in more danger when they are being abused by a partner, but ‘fighting back’ during attempted rape by a stranger actually results in less injury or even escaping rape. This, of course, is based on the studies available to the author. She says that women are socialised to think that they can escape serious injury by not fighting off the rapist, but that rapists inflict injuries on women because they want to be violent, not as part of a struggle where the woman tries to get away.

  3. Witchy:
    Yes, the ‘freeze’ would be the manifestation of knowing one was ‘outgunned’, outwardly, this may be the appearance of acquiescence. I wrote the piece more from an external point of view. The lack of fighting back has at least a ‘partial acceptance’ by police/courts in stranger rapes – however, with acquaintance rapes (and there are many degrees of acquaintance from intimate partner, first date, work colleague to someone she knows by sight and says hello to), this will work against her if she has not shown that she fought back. In the acquaintance rape category, there seems to be a ‘presumption of consent’ (police/courts) and she must ‘prove’ otherwise. Just as courts work on the principle of ‘innocent till proven guilty’, the woman must prove ‘consent till proven rape’. It sucks!

  4. Pippi:
    Although I have not read this book, I must disagree. There is actually no ‘magical’ formula for dealing with rape survival. Each is definitely a case-by-case basis, as there are too many variables. The victim is put in a position of assessing these variables in mere moments, sometimes she is right, sometimes she has misjudged. The variables are the rapist and his motivations, the victim and her background, personality, physical strength and/or self defence training, and the third factor is location.
    In the case of domestic violence (not specifically DV rape), it does not matter what the victim does, it is usually a lose-lose situation. In fact, most DV victims try the full range of responses, some work sometimes, sometimes not. It varies, and yet the abuser is a constant. To say to a victim, “don’t fight back if you know him” is the same as saying “don’t anger him” to the DV victim. I also know that to acquiesce to an abuser can also sometimes bring out some sort of sadistic satisfaction within the abuser, because essentially, that is what he wants, his own way, and he’s got it.
    Stranger rape is extremely tricky, because the victim does not know his motivations, personality, or final intent (ie ‘just’ rape, or murder). Also, if she does manage to escape from him, will she find safety quickly enough? I am writing a (rather long) piece on motivations, so won’t go into it here. Fighting back with some stranger rapists may work, with others, not. This is the realm of the crystal ball. Sometimes it is better to fake compliance whilst observing the slightest opportunity for escape. This is what a friend did with a stranger rape. He had a knife to her throat, she said “ooohh, this has always been my fantasy” which threw this particular rapist ‘off guard’ (in that he thought he was going to ‘get lucky’), and she escaped soon afterwards. This certainly isn’t recommended for all situations, and on another rapist (or location), this strategy may not have worked.

  5. With out having read the book or this authors research findings I agree with you SC that there is no formula.
    Pippi I get the feeling that you were maybe relating the books findings without a personal opinion?
    WW I know from my counselling experience many women don’t fight back because a) they actualy disassociate from the experience in a completely involuntary way or b) they think that if they don’t fight back they may not get as physically hurt, and I quote “get it over with” But like I say these are purely my experience of working with survivors. I need to do some more recent research, to see if this has been studied thoroughly.
    SC I get where you are coming from with the “don’t anger him” sheeeesh!! Some Police Authority (can’t remember which) gave out a help sheet for DV earlier on this year and some of the suggestions were outrageous ie “if you are arguing keep out of his physical space” and so on.
    To summarise, I agree there are so many variables that it would be possible to get dozens of reports coming up with different results. I tell you the truth I find Mona Eliason’s research findings rather worrying and maybe even misleading.

  6. Sparkle:
    The “don’t anger him” lamearse-school-of-advice comes courtesy of the Cheshire Police.
    The initial posting was from the Vociferate blog.

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