Dawkins Defends Himself with More Rape Apologia

[Content Note: Sexual violence; rape apologia.]

image of a tweet authored by Richard Dawkins reading: 'If anybody seriously believed that I
[Tweet links to this piece at Dawkins' site.]

So I read it, as requested. It includes:
Now, given the terrible, persistent and recurrent traumas suffered by other people when abused as children, week after week, year after year, what should I have said about my own thirty seconds of nastiness back in the 1950s? Should I have lied and said it was the worst thing that ever happened to me? Should I have mendaciously sought the sympathy due to a victim who had truly been damaged for the rest of his life? Should I have named the offending teacher and called down posthumous disgrace upon his head?

No, no and no. To have done so would have been to belittle and insult those many people whose lives really were blighted and cursed, perhaps by year-upon-year of abuse by a father or other person who was deeply important in their life. To have done so would have invited the justifiably indignant response: "How dare you make a fuss about the mere half minute of gagging unpleasantness that happened to you only once, and where the perpetrator was not your own father but a teacher who meant nothing special to you in your life. Stop playing the victim. Stop trying to upstage those who really were tragic victims in their own situations. Don't cry wolf about your own bad experience, because it undermines those whose experience was – and remains – so much worse."

That is why I made light of my own bad experience. To excuse pedophiliac assaults in general, or to make light of the horrific experiences of others, was a thousand miles from my intention.
As I noted in my previous piece, the auditing and ranking of survivors of sexual violence and/or the auditing and ranking of various acts of sexual violence itself is rape apologia. The intent of the person engaging in it is irrelevant: Auditing and ranking survivors and acts of sexual violence functions to suggest that some acts of sexual violence are tolerable, and, further, that if a survivor of the "not as bad" sort of sexual violence has lasting psychic injury from that trauma, they are "overreacting." Accusing survivors of abuse of being attention-seeking, melodramatic, lying is a centerpiece of silencing victims.

Dawkins is feeding into these narratives, regardless of the claim that rape apologia "was a thousand miles from [his] intention."

To not do so would not require him to lie, to say that being molested was the worst thing that ever happened to him, to mendaciously seek sympathy, or to name his abuser. It simply would require him to make a minimal effort to not universalize his experience.

At the end of his piece, he writes, regarding his assertion that none of his classmates who were abused in the same way by the same person suffered lasting harm:
If I am wrong about any particular individual; if any of my companions really was traumatised by the abuse long after it happened; if, perhaps it happened many times and amounted to more than the single disagreeable but brief fondling that I endured, I apologise.
Never mind the tacit suggestion that only someone among his peers who suffered more abuse could be acceptably traumatized; he fails utterly to address the implicit shaming of any person, anywhere, who experienced similar abuse and might regard it as rather something more than "thirty seconds of nastiness."

For many survivors of sexual abuse, lasting trauma is defined not by the actual acts, not by their quality or quantity, but by the support they receive following the abuse. Dawkins notes that, as soon as he got away from his abuser, "I ran to tell my friends, many of whom had had the same experience with him." He may not recognize that as a crucial point in his not suffering lasting harm, but the fact that he immediately found support among peers who validated his experience, who neither shamed him nor called him a liar, and the fact that, years later, they would still speak to one another about the abuse after the abuser died, is an invaluable resource to a survivor, which many of us do not have.

To the contrary, many survivors of sexual abuse are silenced and neglected and shamed by the very people who are meant to support and protect us.

The profound feelings of unsafety engendered by being failed in this way after surviving sexual violence is, for a number of survivors, equally or even more traumatic than the abuse itself.

And instead of drawing reasonable and sensitive and decent and helpful comparisons between his survival experience, and those of survivors who did not have access to support, he draws unhelpful comparisons between "levels" of sexual violence, suggesting that only those who suffer abuse at some arbitrary level of intensity or duration might be reasonably traumatized.

I cannot speak for any survivor other than myself, but, as a person who did experience sustained sexual violence at a young age, "year-upon-year of abuse by a...person who was deeply important in [my] life," I would not "indignantly respond" in the way Dawkins suggests, were anyone who did experience lasting harm from any act(s) of sexual abuse to publicly acknowledge that harm.

I would not say: How dare you. I would not audit the importance of the abuser in a survivor's life. I would not accuse someone of "playing the victim." I would not accuse anyone of trying to "upstage" other survivors. I would not accuse someone of crying wolf. I would not ever, ever, tell another survivor that hir experience of assault was better or worse than mine.

Because all of those things act in service to the rape culture—which sustains and thrives in a space where some victims don't matter.

I have been involved in anti-rape advocacy for a very long time now, and, while in this infinite universe some survivor somewhere has certainly told another survivor that their abuse doesn't matter, I haven't seen that happen. I have, however, seen an awful lot of rape apologists engaging in "rape ranking" and telling victims that their abuse, whatever it is, doesn't warrant whatever lasting trauma they report.

In fact, I recall Richard Dawkins greeting Rebecca Watson's report of sexual harassment with precisely that strategy.

Sexual violence does not exist as a series of unrelated abuses that act in competition with one another for attention and concern, but as a spectrum of abuse on which exists both women being creeped on in elevators by strangers and rapes so brutal their victims do not survive.

The implication that there are survivors of sexual violence who have no reason or right to "complain" as long as there are survivors who have experienced something "worse" somewhere in the world not only elides that post-abuse support profoundly affects trauma prognoses, but also creates a justification for ignoring all but only the "worst" manifestations of sexual violence, which necessarily means neglecting survivors in a way that makes them vulnerable to further trauma.

"Rape ranking" is not a neutral position: It is active rape apologia that harms survivors and abets predators.

Dawkins may have been aiming for "a thousand miles" away from minimizing sexual violence, but his aim is shit. For someone who claims he isn't a rape apologist, he sure keeps hitting the apology bull's eye.

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