Masters Thesis

Predictors of Tonic Immobility in Sexual Assault Survivors

Tonic immobility is a temporary state of motor inhibition that occurs while an individual is fully conscious, thought to develop as a result of extreme panic or fear. Studies of sexual assault have often found that survivors of sexual trauma report experiencing some level of tonic immobility during their assaults. Research has posited many potential predictors of this intense response, including assault severity, age difference and relationship between survivor and perpetrator, peritraumatic assault characteristics, prior victimization, and survivor substance use. This study examined the predictors of tonic immobility in 41 female sexual assault survivors through the use of an online survey. Assessments included the Tonic Immobility Scale, Sexual Experiences Survey, Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, Sexual Assault Severity Scale, Peritraumatic Dissociation Experiences Questionnaire, and the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist. the relationship between the survivor and perpetrator, sexual assault severity, and certain assault characteristics were found to significantly predict the emergence of tonic immobility. However, age difference between survivor and perpetrator, prior victimization, and substance use did not significantly predict the tonically immobile response. Future directions include the collection of additional data assessing the relationships between tonic immobility and individual difference variables and the replication of this study using an interview format.

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