WARNING: The following post talks about instances of child abuse. If you or someone you know has been a victim, we suggest you don’t read on.
By MELISSA WELLHAM
Is there such a thing as ‘mild pedophilia’?
Richard Dawkins – well known for being one of the world’s most vocal and prolific atheist writers, has caused controversy this week for something unrelated to his secular stance.
He has inspired outrage among child protection agencies and activists, after suggesting that some child abuse scandals in recent years – involving older children, or those where offences included molestation rather than rape – have been blown out of proportion.
In an interview with The Times magazine, 72-year-old Dawkins referred to an instance of pedophilia he experienced while he was a child, at an English boarding school in the 1950s. He dubbed it “mild pedophilia” – an extremely controversial phrase.
Dawkins said he remembered how one of the masters of the school, “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.” Dawkins also said that he was aware of several other children being molested by the same teacher, but continued to explain that in his view, “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”
Dawkins said of the alleged molestation:
“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.”
Dawkins went on to discuss how instances of sexual abuse of children that involved rape and more serious crimes, should not be seen as the same as “just mild touching up.”
A number of child protection experts spoke to The Washington Post after Dawkins’ comments; they are concerned that his comments could be extremely dangerous.
The director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Peter Watt, called it a “terrible slight”.
He said Dawkins’ comments downplayed the seriousness of pedophilia and the effects that it can have on survivors for years afterwards.