Question: Is it true that the Torah requires rape victims to marry their rapists, and the only punishment to the rapist is a fifty-shekel fine paid to the victim’s father?
Response: Actually the reverse is true:
The victim is not required to marry the rapist; the rapist is required to marry his victim (if she consents), after paying her a very heavy fine.
The Talmud derives these laws from a close reading of the biblical passage: “If a man finds a virgin girl who was not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give fifty [shekels of] silver to the girl’s father, and she shall become his wife, because he violated her. He shall not be able to send her away all the days of his life.”
1 Noting that the Torah is usually economical with its words, the Talmud is surprised by the seeming redundancy of the phrase, “who lay with her.” We already know what this man did; why is it repeated?
From this the Talmud deduces that the fifty-shekel fine is merely a portion of his obligation; it is the portion he pays for the pleasure he took from his act. But this doesn’t compensate her for her pain, indignity and loss. The Talmud thus infers from this verse that in addition to the fine, the rapist is required to indemnify her for three forms of damage: the indignity she suffered, the pain she endured and the loss she incurred. In all, this amounts to a hefty fine.
2 In addition, the rapist is required to marry his victim, and is not permitted to divorce her without her consent. The Talmud explains that this obligation rests on the rapist, not the victim. She is under no obligation to marry him.
Today it is hardly conceivable that a woman would choose to marry a man who had forced himself on her. In the not-so-distant past, however, women depended entirely on their husbands for protection and support.
The rapist thus perpetrated a double crime against his victim: he violated her dignity and compromised her future, for with the stigma of rape upon her, it would now be exceedingly difficult for her to marry.
The Torah is concerned not only with the pain she suffered in the past, but with her vulnerability in the future. Should she find herself without prospects for marriage, and should she want this man as her husband, the Torah requires him to marry her.
In any case, whether the woman opted for this marriage or refused it, she was compensated for the damages caused by the rape.
3 Another thing to bear in mind is the deterrent aspect of this law: the fact that a man knew that if he forced himself on a woman he would face not only a stiff punishment, but also the obligation to marry her and support her for the rest of his life without the ability to ever divorce her, might well have been a strong deterrent against such action.