Richard Dawkins Clarifies Child Abuse Comments


As a keen reader of Dawkins (see “From Jehovah to Dawkins” how his books helped me to reject creationism and be public about my atheism despite the rift that caused in my family) if I had a pound for every time I said “if only he said it like that earlier” or “why say it like that?” … Well, I would probably be employed as one of those hacks that Nick Cohen criticised.

Here is Dawkins latest clarification, having talked about the child abuse he and his school companions experienced:

I should have hoped that much was obvious. But I was perhaps presumptuous in the last sentence of the paragraph quoted above. 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.

That certainly was one part of my criticism. He misses whether he thinks there should be a statute of limitation on being held accountable for abuse that may be many decades ago. Irrelevant in his personal case as the teacher committed suicide. That issue of applying today’s thinking on child welfare to past incidents when the culpable paedophile is still alive are not addressed.

The other was describing his experience as “mild paedophilia” is exactly where the criticism comes from as I discussed from various child charities.

Hemant Mehta puts it well:

What he’s guilty of is what he’s always been guilty of — being insensitive, inarticulate, and unsympathetic. He’s trivializing something others rightly take very seriously because he’s found a way to get past it. As someone who once held the title of “Chair for the Public Understanding of Science,” he’s doing an awful job of bringing people over to his side. Good educators know you have to meet people where they’re at before you can move them in your direction and, by basically downplaying his own abuse, he’s showing a callous disregard for how others might interpret the same situation.

This has been my criticism which I outlined in a post here covering those very incidents before this:

I admire the writer, that intellect, how Dawkins shows intelligent design to be a fraud, and his advocacy of public understanding of science. I despair of the tweets and sound bites Dawkins has used, which even by his own admission have been ill worded and needed an apology. He is better company, and a better man, than this suggests to a wider audience.

There is no contrition on having said “mild paedophilia” existed as a form of child abuse. The action is not mild – it is an unwarranted assault, the nature of which qualifies how horrific the abuse is. Context, situation and society’s views at the time may have a bearing on how traumatic the experience is for a child and later as an adult – in Dawkins’ case seems to be almost none existent. That argument is covered in Psychology Today:

This is indeed a delicate thing to talk about because, of course, it is a big deal when an adult abuses a child in any way—sexual or otherwise. But what this research suggests is that while urgency in detecting and stopping abuse of children is warranted, assumptions that all minors are traumatized by any sexual contact with someone over the age of consent are not scientifically supported. Perhaps more importantly, by sending the message that such experiences are by definition traumatic, we may sometimes be causing suffering even as we try to stop it.

How we help the victims of child abuse is something to consider carefully, as is detecting and stopping. However, Dawkins was not helping in this debate. He downplayed his abuse because he feared would be “to belittle and insult those many people” who had far worse experiences.

It missed that trauma is infinitely variable, even with a similar incident. His apology was not directed at anyone outside his school companion circle with that teacher. He was making a general intergenerational comment and suggesting a particular form of paedophilia was by it’s nature trauma free because it was “mild.”

As posted on the Male Surviver Forum:

Absolutely disgusting. Shows continued ignorance by some of the damage pedopholia causes.

There is no excuse for giving “mild pedophiles” a free pass no matter how much the culture tolerated it. And there is never ever a reason to minimize its effects.

Hence the clarification is lacking, and despite his best efforts it remains callous.

Third time lucky, maybe?

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

Follow @JPSargeant78

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Filed under British Society, Dawkins, Richard Dawkins

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