Richard Dawkins on Date Rape vs Stranger Rape

Sometimes it’s hard to remember who you’re supposed to be allies with.  Richard Dawkins and Ophelia Benson released this lovely joint statement about harassment and, in a moment of severe not surprise, Dawkins proceeded to blow up Twitter by saying something he didn’t realize was quite as wrong-headed as it was.

It started with this tweet:

OK, that is perfectly logical.  Fair. Then it moved on to this example.

OK, well, this is an odd example, but considering Dawkin’s history of abuse and the probable difference he’s referring to, groping vs penetration, I can see what he’s saying here.  It’s probably a bit more subjective than that, but I see what he’s getting at: pedophilia plus violence is worse than pedophilia without violence. And then he went off the rails and Twitter exploded.

So the only way this analogy would work is if he removed date vs stranger and said rape without a knife is bad, rape with a knife is worse.  Except it’s clear that the knife thing is just a weird addendum and what he’s saying is that stranger rape is worse than date rape.

1. Responses to abuse are pretty subjective.  Different people respond differently to being harmed in different ways.  Maybe Dawkins is saying that he’d prefer to be date raped than being raped by a stranger.  But that, of course, is not what he’s saying.  He’s saying stranger rape is objectively worse.

This would be like me saying “Being stabbed in your left arm is bad.  Being stabbed in your right arm is worse.”  I will have said this for personal reasons — I am right-handed.  There are, however, a lot of people who are left-handed or ambidextrous to whom this statement would seem absurd.  Further, it’s making the assumption that the amount of damage inflicted in either case is the same.  But Dawkins is talking psychologically, not physically.


2. The main reason that this blew up in his face is that the majority of rapes are acquaintance rapes, so the majority of rape victims seeing this post see it as delegitimizing.  This is happening in a society that already says that date rapes don’t count the same way that stranger rapes do.  As it turns out, acquaintance rape is just a pre-meditated and intentional as acts of stranger rape.  Even if his assertion was true, it would be perpetuating the stigma that surrounds date rape survivors and paints them, inaccurately, as overreactors or people who changed their mind about sex.


3. What he is saying is FACTUALLY INCORRECT.  I cannot state this more clearly.  Dawkins is absolutely wrong on the fact in this case, assuming the psychological impact of the rape is what we care about.

Victims of acquaintance rape are as traumatized as victims of stranger rape. Specifically, they report equal (and high) levels of depression, anxiety, hostility, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms…” ( and victims of acquaintance rape are more likely to be unable to reconcile what happened with their beliefs in the world and to blame themselves. (Researching Sexual Violence Against Women edited by Martin D. Schwartz).

So, to be clear here, he’s claiming subjective feelings as fact, contributing to the deligitimization of the majority of rape victims, and not even operating with correct facts.  And doing so just because he did a bad job trying to explain what a syllogism is.  He could so easily fix this if he would just do a little research and listen to criticism and acknowledge he said something hurtful.  I have no reason to think he will do this, as he never has before.  It’s a shame, too, there’s just no reason for a man of his intellect and commitment to science to be so unwilling to examine facts and accept criticism of bad ideas.

Richard Dawkins on Date Rape vs Stranger Rape