Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins refused to condemn sexual abuse he admitted to having suffered as a child in an interview with The Times magazine of England, Religion News Service reported on Tuesday.
While he told the Times that an unidentified schoolmaster “pulled me on his knee and put his hand inside my shorts” when he was a child, he argued that he did not think the abuse — which he referred to as a “mild touching up” — against himself and other children in his class “did any of us lasting harm.”
“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours,” Dawkins was quoted as saying. “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’ remarks were quickly criticized by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, (NSPCC) a British organization that works with children either at risk of being abused or survivors of abuse.
“Mr. Dawkins seems to think that because a crime was committed a long time ago we should judge it in a different way,” NSPCC child protection director David Watt told RNS. “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 another British survivors’ advocacy group, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, challenged Dawkins’ attempt to draw a distinction between forms of abuse.
“Abuse in all its forms has always been wrong,” Sanders told The Times. “Evil is evil and we have to challenge it whenever and wherever it occurs.”
In April 2013, Dawkins, an outspoken atheist, accused parents who forced their children to accept their religious beliefs of being abusers, and has also compared being raised as a Catholic to sexual abuse. He continued to defend his arguments on his personal Twitter account Tuesday, writing, “Is anyone seriously denying that raping an 8-year-old to death is worse than putting a hand inside a child’s clothes? Are you that ABSOLUTE? [sic]”