Rape Culture: No Justice in the Courts or Anywhere Else

The grandson of former Virginia governor John Dalton received five years probation and no jail time in his rape trial in Charlottesville last week.  Stephen Dalton Baril’s felony rape and felony sodomy charges were reduced to misdemeanor sexual battery and felony unlawful wounding as part of his Alford plea. Alford Plea defined 

The plea agreement was hailed as a victory by deputy commonwealth attorney Areshini Pather. She thanked the victim for her courage and said she hoped the plea agreement would help bring closure.

What planet is this woman from?  In whose feeble brain does this plea deal encourage healing or “closure”?  This is a deal that benefits the rapist and the rapist alone.  He escapes any accountability and does not have to register as a sex offender.  Five years probation is the equivalent of getting off scott-free.  He is able to continue raping and violating women with no consequence (unless he is charged again).

The victim was able to speak to Baril in court and said, in part, “You raped me whether you want to deal with that or not, it is the truth.”  While there is power in facing her attacker and speaking the truth, his accountability ended there. The young woman agreed to the deal to avoid the re-traumatization of a trial.   Let’s be clear; agreeing to the deal is not the same as getting justice.  There is no justice in this for her. Rape trials are notoriously difficult for survivors of sexual trauma. The conviction rates are pathetically low.

The compromise dodges a larger truth.  It communicates that the experience of women who are sexually violated is of no consequence and that wealthy, connected, and (usually) white rapists with better lawyers and better resources will prevail.  Justice is not blind when it comes to sexual violence against women; it unequivocally favors the perpetrator.

This is a clear example of Rape Culture which is a complex social phenomenon that accepts sexual violence towards women, LGBTQ and non-gender conforming individuals as normative and part of life, despite protestations to the contrary. Further, it excuses men and normalizes their behavior. As one man said to me not long ago, “Hey, it happens”.  It doesn’t just “happen”.  Men choose to rape women. Period.

Rape Culture allows both women and men to blame the victim. Commonly heard comments are: “Well, she was drunk, what did she expect?” “Look at how she was dressed.” “What did she expect walking home alone at that hour?” Read common victim blaming statements

In no other instance is a victim blamed as vehemently as women are blamed for their own rapes.  If only we spent as much time talking about rapists as we do talking about women who are raped.

Traditional interpretation of scripture is a powerful reinforcement of cultural norms of violence against women.  The patriarchal interpretation of scripture adds a “pseudo-holy” interpretation that further blames victims and normalizes violent behavior. 

For example, everyone knows the story of Adam and Eve. In the story Eve is portrayed as tempting Adam into eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It reinforces that women are responsible for the behavior of men.  Nothing in the story indicates that Adam’s moral agency was compromised; he could have said no as easily as he said yes.  Yet we have blamed Eve for centuries.

Cherry-picking favorite scripture out of context is another way patriarchal interpretation undergirds Rape Culture. Perhaps most famously, “Wives be subject to your husbands“(Ephesians 5:22) Read Ephesians 5 here is quoted out of context as a way of underscoring male domination in marital relationships.  The larger context, usually ignored, is: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Wives be subject to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This is hardly a message supporting male domination. 

There are accounts of rape in the bible; Tamar and Dinah are two cases in point. In Genesis 34 Read Genesis 34 here Dinah is raped by Schechem, but the rape is covered over by Shechem who said he was “in love” with Dinah and wanted to marry her.  A marriage proposal does not undo the trauma of rape. Rightly, Dinah’s brothers did not trust Schechem and they shielded her from him. In commentaries the rape is obliterated by the complex story that unfolds after it. 

In 2 Samuel 13: 1-22,Read Here Tamar, daughter of David, sister of Absalom, is raped by her half- brother Amnon. Tamar pleaded with him not to violate her, but he did and continued to shame her by sending her away from his house.  Absalom guessed the cause of her despair and took her into his house.  She was not heard from again; she withered away in her brother’s house. There was no justice for Tamar.

The history of interpretation of the bible is a history of power and control; the “real” meaning always supports purposes determined by ecclesial, socio-political, ethical, nationalistic, or other such concerns.

Thanks to feminist biblical scholarship, these verses are being examined in a new light that validates the experience of women. There is no pseudo-holy interpretation of scripture that supports or validates violence against women. 

Looking at the bible as a whole is the task. It alone will provide a firm theological foundation to undo centuries of patriarchal interpretation that has done untold damage to generations of women who have been blamed and shamed for the violence done to them.  Amplifying women’s voices through careful exploration of the texts is an important thread in unraveling Rape Culture.


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