God is Not Silent About Sexual Assault
God is not silent about sexual abuse.
The Bible neither covers up nor ignores sexual assault. God’s law shows how the Lord takes up the cause of the victim and the vulnerable. There is one passage in particular, Deuteronomy 22:23-27, that safeguarded women who had been violated from being unjustly blamed or not believed. Among God’s people, He established a pattern that protected the survivor from being silenced, marginalized, and discredited.
In ancient Israel, these laws established a pattern, an ethical framework by which God’s people could discern specific situations. And like all of God’s laws, they reveal the heart and character of the Lawgiver.
Against Her Will: “There Is No Sin…”
“But if in the field the man finds the girl who is engaged, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lies with her shall die. But you shall do nothing to the girl; there is no sin in the girl worthy of death, for just as a man rises against his neighbor and murders him, so is this case. When he found her in the field, the engaged girl cried out, but there was no one to save her.” (Deut 22:25-27)
This law uses the Hebrew verb, chazaq, which, in this form, can mean to seize or grasp, or “catch with violence.” This verb can refer to the violent overpowering of another and, in the context of this text, clearly denotes rape. Other times that this specific verb appears in the Bible also signify force, such as Deuteronomy 25:11-12. The two accounts of rape in the Bible that occurred after the law was given – The Unnamed Concubine in Judges 19, and Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 – both include the verb chasaq.
Biblical law recognized sexual assault as a violent crime, one in which the victim was overpowered by another. In fact, this passage considers rape on par with murder. As one commentator explains: “Like the victim of homicide who is forcibly overcome in a premeditated hostile act, a woman raped in the field is also a victim of force and premeditated hostility. Such a victim cannot, therefore, be considered a consenting party to the act.” The attackers crime is a capital offense. He alone is held guilty. The victim is considered blameless, because she did not consent.
In Her Defense: Protecting Against the Lie of False Shame
And consent is the key factor here. When we hear from women (and men) who have been assaulted or abused, many share how they froze when it happened. They didn’t know what to do. They were shocked. They couldn’t move. They couldn’t even scream. And they couldn’t understand why. In the aftermath of trauma, so many survivors wonder if they did something wrong.
God’s Law comes to their defense and expels this false shame. The issue was not how she expressed her lack of consent. The issue is that she did not consent. And therefore, God declared she was innocent.
There’s one more thing about this law we need to see: The woman’s accusation was treated as credible on the basis of her testimony. Biblical law sides with the woman and defends her innocence, despite the lack of witnesses. The woman’s testimony was enough to charge her assailant with the crime. This law not only found her blameless, but also permitted no inference that she was at fault for the attack. In other words, the problem was not that she had done something to be assaulted; the problem was that a man assaulted her.
Our Responsibility: Why We Must Speak Out Against Sexual Assault
For the Israelite woman who was raped, this text ensured that she was heard. She was believed. These laws created an environment in which a survivor of assault already knew that she would be safe and protected by the community. In our own communities, this should reinforce our own responsibility to believe the woman who speaks out about rape.
After analyzing reported cases of sexual assault over a 10-year period, a 2010 study found that between 2% and 10% of accusations were false. Yet, even this fails to represent the rarity of false accusations, since it only includes reported cases. When we considers that only about 28 percent of all sexual assaults are reported, then statistically, the number of false accusations is at minimum .056 percent and most 2.8 percent. This same study also found that many victims of sexual violence did not report the crime because they quote “did not think anything would be done about it.”
Biblical law sets a different precedent. If the woman revealed what had happened to her against her will, she was ensured justice. The community of God’s people both protected her from further exploitation, defended her innocence, and ensured retribution for the one who abused her. Her word was enough for them to act.
The severity of sexual assault in God’s Law compels us to hear, protect, and defend the dignity of every woman, especially the one who breaks her silence about rape.
God is not silent about rape. He speaks on behalf of the woman who has been sexually assaulted. He protected the survivor from being shamed or shunned. He defended the innocent and heard her cry for justice.
And so must we.
Koehler and Baumgartner, HALOT, vol. 1, s.v. “chasaq.” This action that is amplified by the verb’s root meaning (i.e., seize or grasp with strength, or make/become strong [against])
BDB, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, s.v. “chasaq.”
Merrill, Deuteronomy, 305. This point is also noted in Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 295.
 Chasaq in the Hiphil stem appears in Deuteronomy 25:11-12, which describes a woman who, in an attempt to help her brawling husband, seizes the genitals of the man with whom her husband is fighting. This verb is also used to describe David’s attack and seizure of a lion or a bear that had taken one of his lambs (1 Sam 17:35) and the battle in which David’s men seized their opponents and stabbed them (2 Sam 2:16). Perhaps most notably, chasaq in the Hiphil stem appears in the narrative describing Tamar’s sexual assault (2 Sam 13:11).
Concerning the Unnamed Concubine (Judg 19), chasaq appears in reference to the Levite, perhaps a device employed by the narrator to convey his guilt. And, describing the rape of Tamar, chasaq (2 Sam 13:11, 14) appears twice, conveying the incident’s forceful nature. In light of this, one may reasonably conclude that subsequent biblical narrators understood this contextual use of chasaq to mean sexual violence, and therefore, coercion.
Fishbane, 249-50. Craigie: “As in a murder case, the woman was an unwilling victim of an attack; she suffered as a result of that attack, but was in no sense culpable.” Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, 295.
In the interest of space, I won’t address Deut 22:28-29 here, except to say that the Hebrew describes an entirely different scenario than a sexual assault. Most of our English translations mistakenly say verses 28-29 depict a rape. The Hebrew tells a different story. See chapter 5 of my dissertation, “Old Testament Laws Concerning Particular Female Personhood and Their Implications for Women’s Dignity.” (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, 2016).
David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, and Ashley M. Cote, “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases,” Violence Against Women 16, no. 12 (2010): 1318, accessed April 23, 2016, http://www.icdv.idaho.gov/conference/handouts/False-Allegations.pdf.
David Cantor, et al. “Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct,” 21 September 2015 (Rockville, MD: Westat, 2015), iv, accessed April 24, 2016, https://www.aau.edu/uploadedFiles/AAU_Publications/AAU_Reports/Sexual_Assault_Campus_Survey/AAU_Campus_Climate_Survey_12_14_15.pdf.