Richard Dawkins, and Ranking the Top 10 Kinds of Rape in Order of Badness

Obvious trigger warning is obvious.

The blessed gift that is the Shit My Clueless Granddad Says Richard Dawkins Twitter account just keeps on giving. In the past several years, Dawkins has smoothly transitioned from being a fairly well-respected science communicator and public intellectual into being a raving sideshow act, on par with the Tweets of luminaries like Jaden Smith and Jose Canseco.

Previously, Dawkins coined the phrase “mild paedophilia” to describe his experience at a boarding school with a molesting master. It’s a strange phrase, and problematic in how it seems to minimize an already too-accepted crime, but obviously he can contextualize his own sexual assault in whatever way he wishes. The primary problem was that he extended that not just to what the master did to him but what the master did throughout his career to his schoolmates, as well: “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”

He then suddenly seemed to reject his previous decades of rhetoric in order to became a cultural relativist, saying that “you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours.” That is, of course, utter bullshit. Billions of people made it through recorded history and well through the 1950s knowing that adults shouldn’t be sexually assaulting children.

Dawkins’ insistence on ranking sexual assault means that he continually brings it up, again and again, with no change to his own self awareness or to his understanding of the context of his remarks. Here are today’s examples:

He seems to genuinely believe that people only have a problem with his remarks because they think you can’t compare any two bad things without condemning both of them. Dawkins tries a number of different forms of “X is worse than Y” but misses any that are actually educational. How about this one:

Subprime lending is bad. Getting robbed at gunpoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of subprime lending, go away and learn how to think.

Here are a few reasons why this form of “logic” is ridiculous:

1. What is the purpose of comparing and ranking different forms of sexual assault? Is there someone who had their butt grabbed once who is loudly insisting that they were equally harmed as a person who was violently raped and left for dead? Is he defending the victim of the violent rape from the insult of having their own assault minimized? I honestly cannot find any evidence that this, or anything similar, is happening. On the contrary, sexual assault that doesn’t match our preconceived notions of what a rape “should” look like (generally the stereotype is that of a violent stranger rape where the victim fights back valiantly and which exclusively involves penis-in-vagina penetration) is minimized, ignored, laughed about, and rarely prosecuted.

To bring that back to my analogy, yes, getting robbed at gunpoint may be more psychologically damaging. But we already live in a society where subprime lenders get away with horrific tactics and leave people severely hurt. What’s the point of comparing the two in this way?

2. What expertise do you have to rank various crimes? The best the average person can do is to contextualize their own experiences. When it comes to the experiences of others, we can look at what research exists and try to judge the quality of that research and put the results into context. For child sexual assault, there have been some studies of the long-term effects but absolutely not enough to come up with some specific ranking of each form. For instance, we can say that most likely use of force has a greater long-term negative effect, but the threat of force may be similar. Women may be more traumatized than men. or maybe we just don’t have enough reporting for men. Children subjected to very similar kinds of abuse can have very different outcomes, meaning that Dawkins’ classmates may not all agree with his statement that there was no lasting harm. Unfortunately, they don’t get interviewed by the Guardian.

3. What the hell is “mild paedophila” and “mild date rape”? These are not scientific terms – they are phrases that Dawkins made up, with no real information on what they encompass. As the research makes clear, there are many different kinds of sexual assault that differ wildly from the stereotypical “legitimate rape.” There are different body parts involved, different kinds of penetration, different durations, different relationships between rapist and victim, different age of abuse, and different underlying physical and psychological conditions in the victim, all of which can affect the lasting harm. There is no way to conveniently classify a particular type of sexual assault as “mild.”

It’s worth noting that the language Dawkins has chosen to label this nebulous grouping of sexual assault has resulted in a tautology. In other words, he wants to say “this kind of sexual assault is not as bad as this other kind of sexual assault,” and then to make sure that he’s right, he names those two groups with labels that directly state that one is not as bad as the other kind. He may as well have Tweeted this:

Bad rape is bad. Worse rape is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of bad rape, go away and learn how to think.

To conclude, a number of people on Twitter have suggested that Dawkins not stop at two types of sexual assault, and instead that he should rank a top ten. Here is my best guess as to what such a list might look like, in order from least worst to most worst:

10. rapeseed oil

9. unseasoned date rape

8. mild date rape

7. spicy date rape

6. prison rape

5. getting shot by a camper in CoD

4. sort of rape

3. super date rape

2. legitimate rape

1. rape rape

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. I think I would move “10” to “9” because rapesed oil uses GMO’s. Other than that, and considering that I don’t endorse any of those sorts of rapes, I think your list is spot on.

    1. But we haven’t been presented any evidence that GMO rapeseed oil is bad. One of the challenges of skepticism is realizing when a certain term turns off your skepticism. GMO is such a term for many many people.

  2. At first I thought this was just a variation on his Dear Muslima fallacy, but actually it looks like the reverse. So maybe dick has learned, shame it’s come out as this mutant fuck-up series of tweets. Better luck next time Richie.

    1. Rape Rate Bingo? Should we play it at the same time as the Dawkins-rape-excuse drinking game? Then, we’ll all be too drunk to feel sick from the rape apology. The way these things are spewing out, though, we might all die from alcohol poisoning.

  3. Am I the only one who thinks Dawkins’ insistence that the “mild paedophilia” he experienced didn’t do any lasting harm is, well, rather contradicted by his behavior? I mean, it’s like he’s continually obsessing over how it wasn’t a big deal, and has this strange motivation to set standards for other people about how their experiences aren’t allowed to be a big deal *to them*…it almost seems like instead of it genuinely not being a lasting harm, his self-perception and value system dictate that being the sort of person he wants to be precludes it being a lasting harm, so he keeps insisting that to himself and others. Then, when other people express different interpretations or responses to the things that happened to them, he seems to resent them for being open about their trauma because he never gave himself access to those feelings.

    1. That’s a very common way many victims manage their own experiences, and we all view the world through the lens of our own past. Every victim is different and some children are certainly more resilient in how they respond and recover from incidents of sex abuse. Dawkins may be aware that research has consistently shown male victims of childhood sex abuse have poorer adult mental health outcomes than female victims; so perhaps it’s important for Dawkins to not appear damaged or have the victim tag prominently displayed or displayed at all. Not to mention the research that shows how poorly victims are often treated (and how poorly most people view victims) just because they’ve been identified as a victim.

      1. Agreed. I remember thinking how I really shouldn’t be complaining. I really internalized a lot of victim-blaming, just unintentional messages I’d learned from pop culture. For a while, I even excused the girl who molested me, thinking she had to have been molested herself; this also led to paranoia about what would happen if I were around children. (All of this was before puberty, might I add.)

        One result is that when I hear “what about teh menz”, it sends me right back to when I was seven because I managed to spend a bunch of time WATM-ing myself! (Oh yeah, that’s another thing the internet gets wrong: It’s less “You mentioned rape.” and more “Hey, that reminds me of when I was raped.”) HUGE problem among social media activists, BTW. I see a lot of this.

    2. No. I admit that I thought the same thing. While I have no way of knowing if this is the case, it is a coping mechanism familiar to me. It seems that he is trying to absolve the abuser by minimizing his crimes and thus the crimes of all other child molesters who don’t do heinous bodily harm to the children they sexually assault. Wanting to forgive an abuser or believe that the abuse wasn’t “that” bad is common, especially for children being abused by an inescapable authority figure. Maybe his abuse has nothing to do with his dismissals and rationalizations. People are individuals and there is no rule for how one will be effected by abuse. Still, I personally suspect this to be a factor.

  4. Perhaps Richard should have started each tweet with “I have a hunch that…” . You know, just to show he’s making some effort to not be a complete and total ass.

  5. I particularly love how he sets things up so that anyone who has the temerity to disagree with him is therefore incapable of logical thought, rather than his inability to consider that his way of viewing the world might not be the absolute proper and only way. Thankfully I only have to imagine that violation and betrayal by someone that a victim loves and trusts and has emotional ties too might actually be qualitatively “worse” than a violation by a total stranger. What is so hard to understand about not making those kinds of blanket value judgments about which one knows little or nothing and which may be highly individual?

  6. I would think that being the objective scientist that he is, that Dawkins would have to actually experience the various forms of rape before being able to characterize their severity. Commenting on something that one knows nothing about is usually not thought of as “science”.

  7. I’m adding that list at the end to my small collection of “good rape jokes” to trot out whenever I have that discussion with people. I snortled.

    And, to Dawkins: FFS, go away and learn how to think.

          1. The first rule of a hole, and all that.
            With Dawkins it’s like watching Journey to the Center of the Earth.

    1. Here’s another one: Back in 2003, I encountered a self-styled communist online telling everyone how we needed to get over our hangups wrt: incest and pedophilia.

      My response: “You say you’re a communist, but the only class you defend is…the Aristocrats!”

      The problem with rape jokes is that they make rape into some sort of grand karmic punishment or something to be enjoyed, or continue the myth that all rapes fit some stereotype, thus making it easier to ignore the majority of rapes. On the other hand, shaming rapists and rape apologists…That’s something I can get behind.

  8. Ugh those tweets were total bait. People make legit responses questioning his premise that X is worse than Y and now he gets to smugly reply “But the underlying LOGIC is sound because X and Y don’t matter. These internet feminazis are so EMOTIONAL amirite?” If it was only about the logic and X and T don’t matter, then he could have stopped with X and Y, no need to post a string of examples dealing entirely with different types of sexual assault. It’s completely unnecessary to prove his point and it’s almost deliberately cruel to people who have been through these experiences.

    1. Not to mention how much I despise people who insist on being all “beep boop logic” when dealing with emotional topics, as if people who have normal human responses to things in life are somehow doing something wrong.

      1. He’s saying deliberately inflammatory things, and then acting as if an angry response is somehow proof of his own superiority.
        It looks like a bad attempt at some kind of *gotcha*!

  9. And just after the Dawkins-Benson joint statement! I’m soooo repentant of my skepticism of that! Not only that, but look what Ophelia has on her blog:


    Note to commenters: please keep in mind The Statement, and word your comments accordingly. Seriously. Reasoned argument only. I know people get heated about this; I know I get heated almost every time I hit the keyboard, no matter what the subject; Not On This Thread.

    Waiiit a minute–we are supposed to be glad of a fairly boilerplate statement that only addresses the most flagrantly obvious forms of abuse and required no actual introspection from Dawkins about the way he has been contributing to the marginalization of feminists and women’s place in the atheist movement (and, unsurprisingly, has not deterred the harassers one bit…maybe it would have made a difference 3 years ago before people solidified their identities as harassers–I don’t know??). And what do we get from this “joint statement”?! Dawkins continues unabated with his proprietary brand of asshattery, and we are admonished to go easy ON HIM. Fuck it, the statement was supposed to protect people getting harassed, not to protect Dawkins!

  10. Dawkins has provided a clarification that helps (a little): https://richarddawkins.net/2014/07/response-to-a-bizarre-twitter-storm/

    Basically, instead of ‘Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think anybody who said that would thereby be endorsing date rape, go away and learn how to think.’, he meant ‘“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.” If you think anybody who said that would thereby be endorsing date rape, go away and learn how to think.’

    The difference is that ‘Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.’ becomes a quoted statement that he is analyzing logically vs. a statement of his beliefs, and he says that ‘Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. Date rape is bad.’ would equally make his point.

    Ok, I grant that – I’ll accept without reservation that he wasn’t intending to make a value judgment objectively comparing the harms of various types of rape.

    But still…

    His statement as written implied that judgment. That he apparently didn’t mean it that way doesn’t mean that it was unreasonable of everyone to read it that way. His clarification should have some sense of humility that the miscommunication was unnecessary and his fault. Unfortunately, though, the tone really blames everyone for reading his words as they were written.

    Of course, that doesn’t even touch the question so many have brought up of “why use rape for your example anyway??????”

    1. Edit:

      “and he says that ‘Stranger rape at knifepoint is bad. Date rape is worse.’ would equally make his point.”

    2. Not to mention it is a total straw man. When did anyone ever say that if you say one kind of harm is worse than another kind of harm that you are actually endorsing the less bad kind of harm? I’ve never heard anyone make that argument in my life.

  11. Echos of his infamous “Dear Muslima” idiocy as well. In which Of Course he used this very same kind of rhetorical bad/worse ranking for the purpose of “endorsing” the Elevator Guy’s behavior and diminishing you for the “Guys, don’t do that. OK?” advisory.

    So he’s being disingenuous with the whole “basic logic” spiel, afaic.

  12. One could argue that date rape is worse, involving long-term betrayal of normal social solidarity and involving more deliberate subversion of the victims integrity and autonomy.

    Do check David Lisaks data on date rapists. They are every bit as vicious and violent as strangers in ski masks.

    Dawkins has lost me on this one. Saying that comparison is not endorsement is a point. But the disastrous extrapolation from subjective experience is inexcusable. How the fuck would he know about his molester’s effect on OTHER victims? What made his experience ‘mild’ compared to someone else’s?

  13. My question is why use rape at all, especially given his track record on the issue and feminism in general? It would have been just as easy to use the following analogy. “Having a cold is bad, having the flu is worse. That doesn’t mean I wish to have a cold.”
    He would have proved his point without waving a large and heavy stick dangerously near a substantial hornets’ nest. Further proof in my mind that Dawkins is tone deaf to public perception at best, and I suspect it is worse then that.

    I’ve said it before, as an atheist leader Richard Dawkins is a very good evolutionary biologist.

  14. And now with Dawkins’ “clarification”, linked above by Lance, it’s like Dawkins is in some contest to see how many feet he can stuff into his mouth at once.

  15. I have to agree with dawkins here with respect to their being degrees of bad moral actions, simply because it’s clear and distinctly obvious to see the fact that getting rapes in front of one’s young children is worse than getting raped alone, because the former adds another condition to the already wrongful act of rape.

    rape is still bad, however more conditions can make it worse
    This us where I’ll start

    1. Interestingly enough, on DKos, there’s a pie fight over whether or not what’s happening in Gaza right now qualifies as genocide, and it seems to come down to the same sort of “not as bad as” circle jerkery Dawkins is doing here.

      The problem is, “not as bad as” is just a way for the perpetrator to salve his conscience.

      1. @Jon Brewer That pie fight determines legally proper responses–even military action–by vested and invested nations that govern by the Rule Of Law: there is an important difference, by virtually every of those nation’s laws, between, 1) Israel appropriately, strategically, proportionately responding to thousands of rockets reportedly launched into its civilian sectors by Hamas, and, 2) Genocide, defined by United Nations Resolution 260 in 1948 as being “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

        Joe, respective leaders of respective millions know too much, and are accountable for too much–they do not have your luxury of simply blurting with pseudo-certainty, via possibly-purchasable hearsay of others, and your own emotionally-driven brazenness.

    2. Meanwhile, Cornell, that fact is neither clear, nor distinctly obvious, nor necessarily true. Still, since to you it seemed obvious, feel free to outline the flawed premises that led you to your wrong conclusion.

  16. Jon I think the doctrine (sometimes called principle) of double effect should be brought up here. Suppose that one perpetrator invoked genocide on thousands just to save the lives of millions, wouldn’t that decision have been the right one? That is to say, shouldn’t we looked at the conditions that we are working with and try and derive the consequences of said actions for aid in makong our moral decisions?

    This is why I don’t think there are many moral facts that are absolutely true in every type of situation, and the doctrine of double-effect shows its face.

    1. Why are people so fond of inventing contorted scenarios to make something utterly evil palatable? The question isn’t whether you should throw the fat guy onto the trolley tracks, but, if you were the fat guy, would you jump in front of the speeding trolley to stop it before it hit the kindergarten class walking their baby whales on the tracks? What are they doing on the tracks in the first place? Isn’t there a responsible adult present? The answer is, I’m pretty sure my mass wouldn’t slow down a trolley by any perceptible amount.

      In war, people in charge often have to make decisions that could result in many innocent casualties. Do you bomb the suspected weapons factory in the middle of a residential area, knowing that if you miss (or even if you don’t) there might be hundreds or thousands of non-combatants killed? But that isn’t genocide, unless you then send in troops to massacre all the survivors. Killing some people to save others isn’t genocide. Provided there is a clear cause and effect link and you do everything possible to minimize their deaths and suffering, it’s self-defense. Making up reasons to kill one group of people to save another, when there is no proof that doing so will actually prevent the deaths of the second group, is the classic example of genocide.

      So either your example isn’t genocide or the answer to your question is “NO, it’s not the right decision.”

    1. “The systematic killing of, or a program of action intended to destroy, a whole national or ethnic group.” I didn’t write anything inconsistent with that definition.

      1. Well, there is the UN definition

        Yep, it qualifies. Hey, look, it even has something for the current drive to separate Indian kids from their parents (at least from their Indian parents) here in the States.

      2. Buzz

        You said ‘killing some people to save others isn’t genocide’ what did you mean by that? Killing people entails genocide whether or not you have an intention.

      3. And why I say ‘intention’ I mean it as, regardless of a bad intention or good.

        Genocide isn’t defined as ‘the unlawful act of destroying a nation or ethnic group of people’ as there is no moral complaint in the definition,

          1. Look, your contorted scenario is nonsense. I just made the mistake of trying to make rational sense of it.

            I suspect you are just trying to play with semantics in order to compete in the genocide Olympics. I wrote a much longer answer to your JAQing off, but I deleted it because I’m not interested in playing your games.

  17. Hi Rebecca,
    Here are a few reasons why your “few reasons why your form of ‘logic’ is ridiculous” were ridiculous:

    1. “What is the purpose of comparing and ranking different forms of sexual assault?” = Ad Hominem Circumstantial Fallacy, not addressing the argument but rather real or imagined motivations of the arguer.

    2. “What expertise do you have to rank various crimes?” = Ad Hominem Fallacy, not addressing the argument but rather real or imagined inadequacies of the arguer.

    3. “What the hell is ‘mild paedophila’ and ‘mild date rape’? These are not scientific terms…” = Appeal to Tradition Fallacy.

    My General Analysis: worse than the three logical-fallacies as topic-sentences, what followed each hardly-to-didn’t flow from the initial, fallacious claim—thus making the topic-sentences, each, also a Bald Assertion Fallacy: a claim simply stated, without subsequent evidence or logical analysis.

    My Generaler Analysis: all three points of analysis—despite each proceeding from an irrelevant, fallacious topic-sentence—were good.

    Simple Analysis: Rebecca, those bad topic-sentences did injustice to your good analysis.

    Recommendation: Instead, ask Darwin0.5 simply, “So what?”

    1. Approving this comment so that I have a handy link the next time I’m discussing with friends how too many skeptics use lists of logical fallacies in place of actually understanding and engaging in fruitful argumentation.

      1. But you attacked his actual qualifications, that’s Ad Hominem!!! Look at you compounding fake Ad Hominem on fake Ad Hominem!

    2. Is this a bot trying unsuccessfully to pass the Turing test? This seriously looks like the Postmodernism Generator set on “logical fallacy”.

      Fucking weird.

      1. None of them are even accurate. The ” Appeal to Tradition Fallacy” in particular. Just … what?

    3. This is someone clearly trying to write as if they are incredibly brilliant, but when you actually read the comment, you realize they have *no idea what they are talking about*. This entire comment is nonsensical.

      I don’t think you’d know what a fallacy actually was if it hit you across the head and knocked your ass out.

  18. I can’t bring myself to read what he wrote. The thing for me is, who asked him to define for us all what harassment is and how to deal with it? Did we ELECT him or something? My friends wear these shirts with the Four Horsemen of the atheist movement like they’re supposed to be our gods now, and at least half of them are assholes.

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