Content alert: Childhood sexual abuse, trivialization of childhood sexual abuse
In case you didn’t see it: Richard Dawkins recently gave an interview to the Times of London, trivializing what he referred to as “mild” sexual abuse of children, and saying that we couldn’t judge behavior in the past by the moral standards of the present.
No, I am not making this up. Quote:
He said that he could not condemn the “mild paedophilia” he experienced at boarding school. “I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours,” he says in an interview published today in The Times Magazine.
“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 paedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”
Professor Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, describes in a new autobiography how a master at his Salisbury prep school “pulled me on to his knee and put his hand inside my shorts”. He writes that the episode was “extremely disagreeable” and that other boys were molested by the same teacher, but concludes: “I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage.”
It sickens me to think of how statements like this contribute to the shaming and silencing of sexual abuse victims — especially the victims of sexual abuse in childhood. Dawkins is entirely entitled to express his own experience with sexual abuse however he experienced it — but he is absolutely not entitled to tell other victims that their abuse “didn’t do any lasting damage.”
And it appalls me to think that the world will see this as representative of the atheist community — and will use it as yet another example of how atheists have no morality. (The story is already up at the Washington Post as well as the Times of London.)
There’s a petition up — asking Dawkins to retract his statements, but also demonstrating to the world that these ideas absolutely do not reflect the values of the atheist community, and that we utterly repudiate them. Please sign — and please spread the word.
FYI, there are some excellent articles up about this, with very sharp and perceptive analysis, and I highly recommend that you read them:
Imagine a senior Catholic official – a British archbishop, for example, or a cardinal in Rome – spoke to the Times about his childhood church. Imagine he described a village priest who ‘pulled me on to his knee and put his hand inside my shorts’, claiming this priest molested other boys regularly. Imagine that, while calling this ‘extremely disagreeable’, the Catholic official then said ‘I don’t think he did any of us any lasting damage.’ Imagine he stressed this happened in the 1940s, arguing ‘you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours’, cautioned ‘we must beware of lumping all paedophiles into the same bracket’, and suggested according to the newspaper ‘that recent child sex abuse scandals have been overblown’.
How would atheists online react? Not well, I’m sure.
Just when did it stop being OK for acquaintances to put their hands inside Richard Dawkins shorts? I presume it would be an utterly intolerable act now, of course — at what age do the contents of childrens’ pants stop being public property?