“He raped me whether I screamed or not.”
So testified E. Jean Carroll in the civil case she has filed against Donald Trump for defamation and battery about why she didn’t cry out while being raped by him.
What Carroll and others may not realize is that the “cry out” rule used against rape victims is straight out of the bible.
During the trial, the former Elle advice columnist described the sexual assault in a dressing room at Bergdorf Goodman in New York City in the late 1990s. “I’m here because Donald Trump raped me and when I wrote about it, he lied and said it didn’t happen,” she said. Joe Tacopina, one of Trump’s attorneys, repeatedly pressed her about why she didn’t scream as the assault took place. She felt obligated to tell him, “I’m not a screamer.”
Carroll testified how she ran into Trump at the store, they engaged in lighthearted banter, he invited the advice columnist to advise him about a present for a woman friend, lured her to a dressing room in a deserted area of the department store, closed the door, pinned her against the wall and pulled down her tights.
“I was extremely confused,” Carroll testified, saying her adrenaline didn’t give her time to be afraid. She pushed him, stomped his foot, and hit him with her handbag. “I was pushing him back. I was almost too frightened to think. His fingers went into my vagina, which was extremely painful.” Then, he inserted his penis.
Carroll was finally able to use her knee to push Trump away, fleeing the dressing room and the store in a state of shock. She described blaming herself afterward. She confided in two friends, one that night, another colleague the next day. The colleague, Carol Martin, warned her never to talk about the rape or report it because Trump would “bury” her with his legal team. She testified that “I was frightened of Donald Trump. I thought he would retaliate and I was ashamed. I thought it was my fault.”
She further explained on the witness stand, “I was in too much of a panic to scream, I was fighting.” After Tacopina persisted in this line of questioning, she retorted, “One of the reasons why women don’t come forward is they are asked ‘Why didn’t you scream.’ It keeps women silent.”
It certainly does. And this presumption that a rape victim is lying unless someone hears her scream has its roots in the Mosaic law. The bible itself could be branded a rape manual, given its repeated injunctions that women are the spoils of war (see Deuteronomy 20:14, among many other such barbaric biblical orders). The Mosaic code specifies that if a virgin woman who is engaged is raped in the city, both she and her rapist shall be stoned until she die, “the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbor’s wife.” (Deuteronomy 22:23-24) In fact, the bible doesn’t acknowledge that a woman could even be raped in the city — there is no alternate law for a woman being attacked in the city who cries out.
But if this “bethrothed damsel,” as the King James Version puts it, is forced in the field, then only the man shall be put to death, because “the betrothed damsel cried, and there was none to save her.” (The bible’s charity to an unengaged rape victim is, unbelievably, to force her to marry her rapist. Deuteronomy 28-29)
Before rape law reform in the late 1970s and 1980s, many state laws contained some variation on this theme. The 17th-century legal villain at the heart of the Dobbs decision, Lord Matthew Hale, who Alito cited as precedent to ban abortion, also plays a role in this injustice. Hale, who promulgated the legal concept that a husband couldn’t rape his wife, and sentenced two women to death for being witches, likewise promulgated or popularized the legal test of “crying out.”
It was even present in the first documented rape trial in U.S. history, in 1793, according to New York Times contributing editor Jessica Bennett. In fact, that crime took place only a few blocks away from the federal courthouse where Carroll’s case is being heard. The enduring test is still getting rape cases thrown out or letting the accused go free, Bennett notes. How appalling that this biblical test is still invoked as a de facto requirement to believe rape victims.
“Freezing” in response to danger or a predator’s attack, such as deer or bunnies do, is a well-known phenomenon. “Freezing occurs when the amygdala — a crucial structure in the brain’s fear circuitry — detects an attack and signals the brainstem to inhibit movement. It happens in a flash, automatically and beyond conscious control,” as one neurobiologist explains. All too often, the idea that a rape victim must scream is one of the burdens placed on victims, notes Northwestern University Law Professor Deborah Tuerkheimer, author of Credible: Why We Doubt Accusers and Protect Abusers. This test also assumes someone is there to hear and is willing and able to rescue the victim.
In Carroll’s case, she said she was too busy rescuing herself. In any event, as Carroll finally told her interrogator: “I don’t need an excuse for not screaming.” Nor does anyone else.