Can pedophilia ever be ‘mild’?

World-famous scientist, Richard Dawkins has attracted a lot of negative attention recently by suggesting that the “mild pedophilia” he experienced as a boy wasn’t really such a big deal.

In a recent interview, he recalled how one of his teachers “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts.” Dawkins went on to say, “I don’t think he did any of us lasting harm.”

Dawkins’ point was that such situations must be seen in context, and that the cultural backdrop of his youth was sufficiently different from now as to make judgment more complicated and less warranted than it may seem.

“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours,” Dawkins said.

“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,” he said.

Predictably, the backlash has been intense.

Peter Watt, director of child protection at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, called Dawkins’ statement “a terrible slight” to victims of such abuse.

“Mr. Dawkins seems to think that because a crime was committed a long time ago we should judge it in a different way,” Watt said.

“But we know that the victims of sexual abuse suffer the same effects whether it was 50 years ago or yesterday.”

No, we don’t know that. In fact, we don’t know that any two people will “suffer the same effects” from the same experience in the here and now, much less in completely different contexts.

Bruce Rind, an expert on the study of “intergenerational sexuality,” got himself in some hot water in the 1990s when he published controversial research demonstrating that the best predictor of subjective harm is whether or not the minor consented to the experience. Continue reading


Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., is a psychologist, teacher, and author.

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