Content alert: chidhood sexual abuse.
This is why we speak out about these things.
I cannot know for certain that my companions’ experiences with the same teacher were are brief as mine, and theirs may have been recurrent where mine was not. That’s why I said only “I don’t think he did any of us lasting damage”. We discussed it among ourselves on many occasions, especially after his suicide, and there was indeed general agreement that his gassing himself was far more upsetting than his sexual depredations had been. 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.
I still have some issues with this statement. Dawkins still seems somewhat fixated on the idea that the damage done by childhood sexual abuse is contingent on the frequency of the abuse, or the specific kind of sexual contact. But IMO, this apology is an important step. He has acknowledged that it was wrong of him to extrapolate from his own experience with being molested, which he sees as not having done him any lasting damage, and assume that other people’s experiences and responses to those experiences were the same as his.
And this is why we speak out about these things.
We speak out to educate. We speak out to change minds. We speak out to get voices heard that otherwise would not be heard. We speak out to show people that they are passing on misinformation, that they are missing important pieces of information, that their reasoning is flawed, that their words and actions are causing pain. We speak out to give courage to others who may also want to speak. We speak out to give a voice to people who are afraid to speak, or are unable to speak. And we speak out with passion and anger to make it clear that some positions are not acceptable, and should not be acceptable. We speak out with passion and anger to refuse our consent, to set ourselves apart from ideas and actions we consider reprehensible. We speak out with passion and anger to give notice to others that similar ideas and actions will not be accepted. We speak out with passion and anger to make it clear that real harm has been done. We speak out with passion and anger to say, “You are hurting me, you are hurting other people, please stop it now” — and to get that message heard.
All of that has been accomplished in the pushback against Dawkins’ original statements.
It’s not up to me to accept or not accept Dawkins’ apology. That’s up to victims of childhood sexual abuse, and I will wait to hear from more of them. But since I’ve been writing about Dawkins’ earlier statements, I thought it was important to let people know about his subsequent apology. And in the face of a very distressing, very discouraging time in the atheist and skeptical community, I thought it was worth saying: Speaking out works. Let’s keep it up.