Richard Dawkins, Again

[Content Note: Sexual violence; rape apologia.]

The thing about movement atheist Richard Dawkins is that he is the worst. And, yesterday, he reminded us once again why he is the worst by engaging in some truly gross rape apologia, while simultaneously disclosing that he is a survivor of sexual abuse:
In a recent interview with the Times magazine, Richard Dawkins attempted to defend what he called "mild pedophilia," which, he says, he personally experienced as a young child and does not believe causes "lasting harm."

Dawkins went on to say that one of his former school masters "pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts," and that to condemn this "mild touching up" as sexual abuse today would somehow be unfair.

"I am very conscious that you can't condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don't look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can't find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today," he said.

Plus, he added, though his other classmates also experienced abuse at the hands of this teacher, "I don't think he did any of us lasting harm."
There are a lot of ways to respond to surviving sexual abuse. One of them is to minimize it. That is an understandable (and common) response to sexual abuse, and I am not in the business of policing people's individual response to trauma.

So if Dawkins wants to speak, for himself, about not personally condemning someone who molested him, and say, for himself, that he experienced no lasting harm, that is his right.

But the moment he starts extrapolating that response into a universal application, we've got a problem. It is categorically not his right to audit the lived experiences of other survivors and assert what the effects of surviving abuse have been (or should have been) on their lives.

This idea that anyone who was sexually abused in "an earlier era" doesn't or shouldn't experience lasting harm is implicitly victim-blaming, suggesting that anyone who has experienced lasting harm is weak, or wrong, or lying.

Embedded within it is also an argument that it's not the actual abuse that harms, but culture's response to abuse that harms. That is, anti-rape advocates are to blame—because it's not the actual abuse that causes harm; it's the awareness around abuse that causes harm.

This is a key piece of rape apologia—the idea that it's talking about abuse which traumatizes survivors, rather than the abuse itself. Naturally, no one should be made to disclose or discuss abuse against their will. But processing abuse is a crucial survival strategy for many victims—and, in fact, being denied the opportunity to process, being silenced, is a secondary trauma for many survivors.

Another key piece of rape apologia is the auditing and ranking of survivors of rape and/or the auditing and ranking of various acts of rape itself. Whether it's Republicans trying to redefine the legal definition of rape, Whoopi Goldberg defending Roman Polanski with comments about "rape-rape," the use of minimizing terms like "grey rape," calling rape "a disagreement between two lovers," or any of the other endless examples of language which posits there is some "real, serious, harmful rape" and some other sort of "sorta, kinda, not that bad rape," the idea that certain types of sexual abuse are tolerable is about the most basic rape apologia there is. "Mild pedophilia" is just not a phrase that should even exist, no less be uttered aloud.

The thing is, Richard Dawkins is a child rape apologist. One of the first things I ever noted about Dawkins in this space was his reckoning that a child is "arguably" better off repeatedly raped than raised religious:
In the penultimate chapter of his best-selling book The God Delusion, biologist and world-renowned atheist Richard Dawkins presents his view of religious education, which he explains by way of an anecdote. Following a lecture in Dublin, he recalls, "I was asked what I thought about the widely publicized cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland. I replied that, horrible as sexual abuse no doubt was, the damage was arguably less than the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place." Lest his readers misunderstand him, or dismiss this rather shocking statement as mere off-the-cuff hyperbole, Dawkins goes on to clarify his position. "I am persuaded," he explains, "that the phrase 'child abuse' is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshriven mortal sins in an eternal hell."
So, he "can't condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours" when it comes to the sexual abuse of children, but he's totes cool with it when it comes to religious upbringing. Priorities. He's got 'em.

It is my personal, individual experience that a Christian upbringing made my surviving sexual abuse even more difficult than it already was. I have real concerns about how certain, ubiquitous, rarely challenged aspects of religion both abet the sexual abuse of children and shame survivors while protecting abusers. This is a subject that desperately needs more attention and public conversation. Setting up "religion" and "rape" in some kind of vile contest for Worst Thing Ever, instead of engaging the intersection at which they interact to target children, isn't a helpful part of that conversation.

But, of course, Dawkins isn't interested in being helpful. He is interested in minimizing the gravity of sexual violence.

If he wants to do that for himself, for his own survival, fine. But he needs to leave the rest of us the hell out of it. The last fucking thing I need is another survivor publicly concern-trolling me for being affected, and offering himself up as a useful tool to the predators who share his loathsome opinion that a little rape ain't so bad.

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