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Richard Dawkins believes there's a 'milder' form of rape. And not everyone disagrees.

Controversial commentator Richard Dawkins.

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.”

Is anything “just mild touching up”?

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.

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Watt said “Mr. Dawkins seems to think that because a crime was committed a long time ago we should judge it in a different way … But we know that the victims of sexual abuse suffer the same effects whether it was 50 years ago or yesterday.”

Peter Saunders, founder of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood and himself a victim of abuse, told The Times that Dawkins’ comments were worrying and unhelpful, adding: “Abuse in all its forms has always been wrong. Evil is evil and we have to challenge it whenever and wherever it occurs.”

Criminologist and head of research Carol Ronken at Bravehearts, a national child protection advocate, spoke to Mamamia and said:

As one of Australia’s leading charities specifically and holistically dedicated to addressing the issue of child sexual assault, we are extremely concerned about the comments attributed to Richard Dawkins that appear to minimise the very real and serious effects of child sexual assault. As alluded to in his comments, there are certainly different forms of sexual harm perpetrated against children and children experience different degrees of impact. To imply that what might appear to be a low scale sexual offence (such as fondling) does not impact on children is absolutely erroneous. While some may feel unsafe around that person, others may feel incredible shame around the incident and it may have serious repercussions on their development and self-esteem.

We would also note that more often than not, these so-called ‘mild’ forms of sexual harm are intrinsic to the grooming process and can lead to ongoing sexual assault. To ignore these offences and to minimise their impacts mean that we are condoning adults sexualising children and using children for their own sexual needs. This is an intolerable and unjustifiable result of the position postured in Dawkins comments.

Child sexual exploitation is never okay, it is never acceptable and it can never be excused. Yes, there are many and varied forms and one should not be and cannot be compared to another, but to excuse any form of sexual exploitation of children as something that should not be condemned is just seriously wrong and dangerous.

The world’s media have also not been kind to Dawkins. Jezebel wrote:

New theory: Richard Dawkins is a hardcore evangelical Christian masquerading as an atheist to give non-believers a bad name. It’s going well, because he recently said that “mild pedophilia” isn’t too bad and we should all accept it as a natural part of growing up, like “mild rape” or “mild limb severance.”

At its most basic level, Dawkins’ central argument is that molestation of children isn’t comparable to rape of children. Now, to some extent, this may be true in the sense that the crimes are treated differently under the law and are at difference degrees of severity.

However.

Dawkins is a hugely influential public figure – with the media and millions of people hanging onto his every utterance – which gives his words great power. And with that power, comes the ability to disenfranchise people who have “only” experienced what he considers “mild pedophilia”.

The ability to make them feel that their suffering or experiences are somehow less important….

That what happened to them was only “mild”, and so they shouldn’t complain…

And such feelings could serve to compound a victim’s pain and suffering.

Something that surely, our society does not want to see.

What do you think? Were Dawkins’ comments harmless, and meant only to distinguish between types of sexual abuse for a legal framework? Or should his statements be taken more seriously?

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