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Sep 12 2013

All Nonconsensual Sex is Sexual Assault: How We Categorize and Minimize Rape

[Content note: sexual assault, statutory rape]

People, as it turns out, really love to categorize sexual assault.

They like to speculate about which ones are worse or more traumatic. They like to refer to certain sexual assaults with sanitized language that either glamorizes or minimizes what happened. If at all possible, they like to leave words like “rape” and “assault” out of it.

Here are two recent examples of these tendencies.

1. Richard Dawkins has previously claimed that sexual abuse of children by priests does less “lasting damage” than “the mental abuse of bringing them up Catholic in the first place.” Recently, he ignited controversy again by stating that he cannot condemn sexual abuse of children by teachers–which he himself went through–because standards were different back then and he doubts that “he did any of us any lasting damage.” Dawkins also made this type of move during the Elevatorgate incident, in which he mocked Rebecca Watson’s discomfort with being propositioned in an elevator in the middle of the night because Women In The Middle East Have It Worse™.

2. Last week, a video posted on Instagram showed a frosh week event at Saint Mary’s University in which students chanted, “Y is for your sister [...] U is for underage, N is for no consent [...] Saint Mary’s boys we like them young.” So, they were chanting about rape. However, many news articles covering the story only referred to the chant as promoting “nonconsensual sex” or “underage sex” rather than statutory rape or sexual assault.

Nonconsensual sex. Underage sex*. That old standby, sex scandal. The lengths to which writers and editors will go to avoid using the words “rape” or “assault” are impressive. It’s interesting because usually journalists make an effort to choose language that grabs as much attention as possible (at least, that’s what was impressed upon me repeatedly during my year in journalism school).

“Sex scandal” sounds like something you’d find in a tabloid and forget by tomorrow, when yesterday’s papers are today’s subway litter. ”Underage sex” sounds like “underage drinking.” “Nonconsensual sex” sounds like a bad idea fueled by apathy or impatience, like having sex without a condom. It makes it sound like consent is just an added bonus, in case you really want to cover all your bases.

All of these common journalistic tropes insist on using the word “sex,” but all sex without consent is by definition assault or rape.

This doesn’t mean that all sexual assaults are identical. They can be perpetrated by strangers or friends or acquaintances or partners or family members or authority figures. They can involve physical force, or they can not. They might leave the person in need of medical attention, or they may not. They may be nonconsensual because the survivor is a minor or because they were intoxicated or because they simply didn’t give consent. They may be motivated by a desire to punish or to “turn” a queer person straight or to take what one feels owed or to alleviate boredom. They may or may not lead to pregnancy or STI transmission. They may be perpetrated by someone of any gender upon someone of any gender. They might take place in the survivor’s home or in the assaulter’s home or in someone else’s home or at a bar or club or outside or in a school or in a medical facility or at a prison. The survivor may not have consented to any sexual activity with the person who assaulted them, or they may have consented to some of it. They may have had consensual sexual encounters with that person in the past, or they may not have.

These distinctions are relevant in some contexts. They are relevant for researchers studying the causes and effects of sexual assault, and for those who want some descriptive statistics. They are relevant for activists and educators who may want to target particular situations in their prevention work. They are relevant for survivors who might want to get support from others with similar experiences.

They are not relevant in deciding whose sexual assault was “worse,” because the same event could affect different people differently. They are not relevant in determining which sexual assaults are “legitimate” and which are not.

They are not relevant in determining which sexual assaults are “really” sexual assaults, which ones we’re going to refer to as “assault” and which ones we’ll just call some form of “sex.”

Sexual assault is the only crime to which the reaction is frequently some version of “Well, maybe it’s not that bad.” “Maybe she was mature for her age.” “Maybe he deserves it; he’s in prison after all.” “Maybe they actually wanted it.” “Maybe it wasn’t even that traumatizing.”

Or maybe we keep trying to minimize sexual assault, both with our words and with our actions, because treating it with the gravity it deserves is harder–harder emotionally, harder strategically. It requires eradicating the disdain with which many people view assault victims.

A good place to start is resisting this dilution and weakening of our language. Call sexual assault what it is, every time. Poynter has some great guidelines:

Describe charges of sex without consent as rape, not anything less….[S]ometimes writers minimize the trauma of rape by describing it as sex or intercourse if the rape doesn’t involve the kind of physical violence that requires medical attention.

And stop it with the masturbatory thought exercises about which assaults are “worse” than others.

~~~

*Originally, when I posted it on Twitter, this headline at least included the word “non-consensual.” Then it inexplicably disappeared.

66 comments

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  1. 1
    SallyStrange

    Exactly. What rape apologists like to refer to as “rape-rape” (pace Whoopi Goldberg) or “legitimate rape” (pace Todd Akin) is really rape PLUS simple assault/battery.

    Rape is sex done by one person to another without the other’s consent, full stop.

    If a rapist also beats a person while raping them, then they have both beaten and raped them. Two crimes.

    A lot of people seem to think if there was no beating, there was also no rape.

    Which is great for rapists who want to get away with raping over and over again.

    1. 1.1
      prodegtion

      That’s correct. As I’ve pointed out before, “rape” in and of itself, merely being the act of have sex with someone without their consent, isn’t actually that serious a crime. It’s just that it’s usually accompanied by more serious crimes like beating.

      1. 1.1.1
        Gretchen

        As I’ve pointed out before, “rape” in and of itself, merely being the act of have sex with someone without their consent, isn’t actually that serious a crime. It’s just that it’s usually accompanied by more serious crimes like beating.

        Have you tried both?

        I mean, being the victim of both?

        1. 1.1.1.1
          prodegtion

          Why do you ask? Or is this another ad hominem attack?

      2. 1.1.2
        Gretchen

        Also,

        It’s just that it’s usually accompanied by more serious crimes like beating.

        Citation needed.

        1. 1.1.2.1
          prodegtion

          I was being a bit figurative. What I meant was, we in society consider rape a serious crime because it is usually associated with more serious crimes like beating.

      3. 1.1.3
        imnotandrei

        As I’ve pointed out before, “rape” in and of itself, merely being the act of have sex with someone without their consent, isn’t actually that serious a crime.

        I’ve been beaten. I’ve also been sexually assaulted. I know which I consider more serious, even though the assault *failed*, and the perpetrators suffered more *physical damage* than I did.

        *You* may think it’s “not that serious”. Other people are free to consider you a monster, a moral idiot, a rape apologist, and someone they’d really rather be nowhere near.

        1. 1.1.3.1
          prodegtion

          I never said rape wasn’t a bad thing. I just think some rapists made an honest mistake; that’s all. Surely you don’t believe all rapists are “monsters, moral idiots, rape apologists, someone they’d rather be nowhere near”. Especially after they have shown remorse for their actions?

      4. 1.1.4
        ceesays

        kindly take yourself away from me, as you are a dangerous person who cannot be trusted.

        1. 1.1.4.1
          prodegtion

          Cannot be trusted?!? I am a 100% honest individual, actually. Much more honest than most people. That’s what gets me in trouble!

        2. 1.1.4.2
          prodegtion

          And how am I “dangerous”? I have never committed a rape or any serious crime.

        3. 1.1.4.3
          SallyStrange

          Correct response. Honestly, he’s even worse than I thought he was. If i knew prodegtion in real life, I’d stay the fuck away from him and advice all my friends to do the same. I can’t honestly believe him when he says he hasn’t committed a rape, or “any serious crime” – note the qualifier “serious”, which leaves open the possibility that he has committed crimes he deems “unserious.” And of course, as he revealed in this thread, he doesn’t consider rape or even raping a 4-year-old a serious crime.

          Creepy, creepy, CREEPY!

      5. 1.1.5
        Lee

        “As I’ve pointed out before, “rape” in and of itself… isn’t actually that serious a crime.”

        I was raped when I was 4. He talked me into cooperating. There was no pain, no physical injury or damage. He wiped me clean afterward, puled my pants back up, sent me back inside. There was so little physical effect from it, that no one else knew it happened for about 25 years.

        That was a half century ago – 54 years now. I’ve done many many years of intentional hard work at cleaning up the impact of it. It still sometimes limits my ability to do the things I;d like to do with my lovers. It still sometimes interacts with my self doubts and self image and what it means to me personally to be the man I want to be, in ways that still sometimes threaten to limit my choices and successes in the world. It is still, 54 years later, the single most long term damaging thing that has ever happened to me.

        I’ve been beat – a bar fight that got out if hand when I was in my early 20s. The emotional impact lasted about a s long as the physical healing took.

        I’ve been mugged on the street, three men with guns, one of which got shoved into my sternum with enough force to cause the bone to bruise. I got over that one emotionally before the weekend was over. The physical soreness lasted a couple weeks.

        I’ve had my family robbed at gunpoint, in a restaurant takeover robbery here in Oakland. One of them put his gun between me and my son, so that it obscured the lower half of his face, left me seeing the fear in his eyes. That one fucked me up for a while – rage and inability to respond, and some slight PTSD for a while. It took me maybe 4-6 months before I really fully recovered from it.

        Yes, rape is that serious a crime.

        In other words, prodegtion? Fuck you.

        1. 1.1.5.1
          prodegtion

          If you consented then it’s not “rape”, is it? On your own head be it if he “talked you into cooperating”.

          And sure, you made a mistake, but really a very minor one. Get over it.

          1. piegasm

            Can you read? He was four. Remember when you asked why anyone would think you’re dangerous? This is a clue.

          2. smrnda

            So… FOUR YEAR OLD KIDS are responsible for adults raping them? Don’t you realize that we *teach kids to trust adults and do what they say?* That’s how predators are able to get away with what they do to kids – often kids who are really young don’t even understand what is happening to them, and are confused and intimidated. How much bigger is an adult than a four year old kid?

            You clearly seem intent on trivializing the trauma endured by victims of rape and sexual abuse. You make no arguments, you just say

            1. rape isn’t serious
            2. repeat the point

            People *are* traumatized by rape – you’re pissing and shitting on suffering people to engage in a jack-off ‘utility monster’ thought experiment so you can feel cool and defiant and smug.

        2. 1.1.5.2
          prodegtion

          And why didn’t you refuse once you realized it wasn’t what you wanted?

        3. 1.1.5.3
          prodegtion

          Did this man force you to have sex with him?

      6. 1.1.6
        NateHevens, resident SOOPER-GENIUS... apparently...

        What the everloving fuck is wrong with you? If you had sex with someone without consent, you are a rapist and need to go to jail…

        Asshole…

        1. 1.1.6.1
          prodegtion

          I agree you should pay damages to the victim. I never said there should be no penalty. Jail is a bit rash…

  2. 2
    prodegtion

    Exactly! Assault should not be categorized like that. Sexual assault is just assault and it is not inherently worse than general assault just because it’s “sexual”.

    1. 2.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Pretty sure you’ve missed the point a little bit there.

      1. 2.1.1
        SallyStrange

        This dude is a trolly trolling troll who has already trolled several FTB blogs and been banned from one. I forget which.

        1. 2.1.1.1
          prodegtion

          I strongly resent that accusation. You cannot dismiss my arguments with ad hominem attacks like “he’s a troll”.

          1. lochaber

            walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck…

          2. imnotandrei

            You cannot dismiss my arguments with ad hominem attacks like “he’s a troll”.

            No, but we can say “You’ve said stupid stuff on other blogs, and refused to learn/demonstrated any ability to learn, so you’re not worth arguing with.”

            Your arguments aren’t bad because you’re a troll. You’re a troll because your arguments are bad and your rhetorical manner appears to be far more about getting a rise out of people than actually *engaging*.

            See? No argument ad hominem there.

          3. prodegtion

            Then actually respond to the arguments. Don’t dismiss the ones you don’t like by saying “my rhetorical manner appears to be far more about getting a rise out of people than actually engaging.”

          4. John Horstman

            SallyStrange wasn’t dismissing your “arguments” (I think you meant “assertions”). Ze was dismissing you, as a person, for behaving in an awful fashion. Go away. You’re not owed an audience nor engagement with your statements.

    2. 2.2
      Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

      I’m pretty sure that I’d be less bothered by someone rubbing my shoulder without my consent (an assault) and someone rubbing my clitoris without my consent. Inherently worse? Yep.

      1. 2.2.1
        prodegtion

        That’s your personal preference, which is not relevant in deciding which of those two assaults is “worse,” because the same event could affect different people differently.

        1. 2.2.1.1
          imnotandrei

          because the same event could affect different people differently

          Indeed; of course in order to operate as a society, sometimes things need to be treated the same across multiple people.

          It’s sort of how that “society” thing works — people come to a consensus, and operate from that basis.

      2. 2.2.2
        John Horstman

        True for you, but then there are people for whom any kind of touch is traumatic (and perhaps equally so), or people who have relatively minor responses to sexual assault. Why the need to universalize/essentialize your own experiences? ‘Severity’ doesn’t really matter that much because violating bodily autonomy is wrong, full stop.

  3. 3
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    Thanks for this. I was so frustrated over the coverage of the St. Mary’s (and later in the week UBC’s) frosh chant. What’s so difficult about using the word “rape”? Okay, so maybe official news outlets want to avoid using a non-legal term*–then at least they could have said “sexual assault”. Every time they said “non-consensual sex” it sounded like they were naming some new faddish harmless fetish or kink that old fogeys might be scandalised by.

    *in our Criminal Code there’s no crime called “rape” anymore. It’s “sexual assault,” “sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm,” or “aggravated sexual assault” (a sexual assault that “wounds, maims, disfigures or endangers the life of the complainant”).

  4. 4
    smrnda

    I really dislike the sleight-of-hand euphemism ‘non-consensual sex.’ Though it’s close to a definition, the fact that the writer or speaker has avoided saying ‘rape’ implies quite a bit.

  5. 5
    MK

    Tthere’s a pretty good critique of the distinction some feminists make between “sex” and “rape” at “a radical transfeminist blog”. I’m not sure if you’ve visited that blog before – it’s been cited a lot on the blogosphere. The piece I’m talking about is called “The Ethical Prude.”

    1. 5.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I’ve read it. My point isn’t that “rape is about power not sex”; my point is that the media replaces the word “rape” with “sex” to make it seem like less of a big deal.

  6. 6
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    I guess there’s a place where the word “rape” may not exactly be the “correct” word, and it might not be exactly accurate on some level to call someone a “rapist”… but to replace “rape” with “sex” is bullshit. If the contact is sexual and non-consensual, the MINIMUM correct term in my view is “sexual assault”, and the perpetrator should be described as a “sex predator” or something similar. It is OK to display nuance, it is NOT acceptable to erase the nature of the violation.

    1. 6.1
      michaelnam

      It’s a reflex laziness in the assembly-line industry of news packaging. During the breaking Jerry Sandusky story, I repeatedly had to send back stories to my copywriters to change ‘sex scandal’ to ‘abuse scandal’ or whatever combination of words to make it fit while differentiating it from something like, oh, I don’t know, Mark Sanford flying off to Argentina to be with his mistress.

  7. 7
    Jacob Schmidt

    As I’ve pointed out before, “rape” in and of itself, merely being the act of have sex with someone without their consent, isn’t actually that serious a crime.

    Assault, in and of itself, is merely the act of striking someone without their consent. It isn’t actually that serious a crime.

    Wait, no, sorry. I meant to write that you’re an idiot.

  8. 8
    Jafafa Hots

    I think the term “statutory rape” is a cop-out in itself.
    As I’ve said elsewhere, all rapes are illegal, laws are “statutes,” all rapes are “statutory” rapes.

    Rape is rape.
    The “statutory” is added to soften it. Used as an excuse. “I’m no rapist, it’s was statutory rape – she was just underage. She totally wanted it.” etc.

    Even if “statutory rape” is a legal term denoting a difference (and I don’t know if it is), that’s only because the law was written in a way that supports the “doesn’t matter as much” apologetics. Big surprise that would be.

    1. 8.1
      prodegtion

      Statutory rape is not rape. Age of consent laws are bullshit. Children are not as stupid as feminists would have us believe. Or maybe it’s projection of their own stupidity?

      1. 8.1.1
        Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

        Yeahh, alright, you’re banned. Agreeing that adults shouldn’t have sex with little children is kind of the bare minimum to be allowed to comment here.

        1. 8.1.1.1
          John Horstman

          Well, ze’s an ass, but the statutory rape laws in my state ARE bullshit – any partnered sexual activity involving anyone under 18 is illegal, irrespective of relative ages of the partners (including both of them being under 18, in which case they’re legally raping/assaulting each other). Obviously the power differential between an adult and a juvenile or even adolescent is going to make consent impossible, but statutory rape laws cover more than that case in some jurisdictions. Banning consensual partnered sexual activity is a problematic imposition on bodily autonomy.

          1. Lee

            @JH:

            I agree that a lot of the statutory rape laws have very serious problems, especially in dealing with people close in age. But – up this thread a ways I described being raped at age 4, in part by being talked into cooperating. Because I was 4. And the lifelong effects I deal with because of it.

            prodegtion responded that it wasn’t rape if I cooperated, and I made a mistake, but only a minor one, and I should get over it. That’s what he’s defending, and that, I’m reasonably sure, is what got him banned.

          2. Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

            There’s a difference between saying “some statutory rape laws are bad and don’t reflect teenager’s abilities to make certain decisions with their bodies”* and saying “statutory rape laws are bullshit, children can give consent.

            *I kind of like the German approach where you have different groups to allow teenagers to explore their sexuality with each other while still banning adults from taking advantage.

          3. Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

            Agreed. It’s important to remember that statutory rape laws were designed to keep significantly older adults from preying on children and teenagers, and naturally the age cutoff had to be somewhere, and that somewhere would be a pretty arbitrary age because everyone matures at different rates. There are probably 15-year-olds out there who are capable of truly, genuinely consenting to sex with 25-year-olds. But there are probably many more who are not.

            The German approach sounds interesting; I’d love to hear more about it if you have a link handy.

          4. Jafafa Hots

            Some US states have the horribly nicknamed “Romeo and Juliet Laws” which make a distinction between people a couple of years apart and adults going after minors.

            But the bottom line is you have to have a law, and it has to be generalized despite everyone maturing at different rates because there’s no other way to do it. Yes, the similar-age exceptions are probably a good idea if done right, but no matter what you do you are going to be faced with a choice of either not protecting anyone, or protecting kids but generalizing to the degree that you prevent some older people from being able to have sex with some younger people.

            My concern about the unjustness of the latter is about as strong as the public outcry from young people demanding the right to have sex with older people – very little.

            It’s funny (funny-coincidence, not funny-haha) that the majority of arguments against age-of-consent laws seems to always come from older people who are offended at being told “no, you can’t, hands off.”

  9. 9
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    “Sex scandal” sounds like consenting adults having sex conservatives disapprove of. And that’s exactly what calling rape a “sex scandal” does: We file it in our brains under “really, stop making a fuss about people having sex you prudes”

    1. 9.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Yes, and that sort of thinking plays out so much with sexual harassment cases, i.e. the whole “well we’re all adults here a little innocent flirting never hurt anyone you feminists just hate sex blahblahblah” thing.

  10. 10
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Miri

    The German approach sounds interesting; I’d love to hear more about it if you have a link handy.

    I have none in English so I’m trying to recapitulate from the German Wiki-page.
    Age 14: Sexual acts with children under 14 are always criminal, but as in general law, the perpetrator must be 14 years old or older (you cannot be convicted of a crime when you’re under 14 in Germany).

    Age 16: It is illegal for an adult over 21 to have sex with a teenager under 16 if said teenager lacks the ability to give meaningful consent. But, and this is IMO the great weakness, unless there’s a public interest or there was no consent or the adult was in a position of authority and trust, the legal guardians have to make a report for this to be prosecuted and since in the public opinion it is pretty much tolerated that adults fuck 14 and 15 yo. And, of course, it creates this infamous “grey area” where the adult only has to claim that they reasonable believed in the teen’s ability to consent.

    Age 18: It is illegal for a adult in a position of power and trust (teacher, employer etc) to have sex with an under 18 yo.

    For all ages normal laws about sexual assault and rape also apply, of course.

  11. 11
    Bennie Crouch

    I simply can’t agree to this at all. It seems to me that you’re telling victims how they are allowed to categorize their feelings about their victimization. I’m pretty sure a family of five who had their house broken into and all their worldy goods stolen would have the right to say that their case is a bit more serious than the high school student who’s car was broken into and all that was stolen was their cd player.

    Are you saying that we aren’t allowed to recognize the differing degrees and levels assault can take?

    1. 11.1
      Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

      No, the person who’s actually tellig people how they’re allowed to feel about their victimization is you.
      There is no automatism that says the family who had their house burgled is going to suffer more psychological damage than the highschool student. There isn’t even one that says they suffer more economic damage. You’re actually the one telling the hypothetical highschool student that xe’s not allowed to suffer because other people have their house burgled.

      1. 11.1.1
        Ben Crouch

        Oh yeah? Could you please quote the part where I stated that? Because I’m positive I said EXACTLY this; “…say that their case is a bit more serious. Notice the “more serious” part there? That indicates a difference of degree.

  12. 12
    kacyray

    Miri said:

    Recently, he ignited controversy again by stating that he cannot condemn sexual abuse of children by teachers–which he himself went through–because standards were different back then and he doubts that “he did any of us any lasting damage.

    According to the citation of Dawkins’ statement found on PZ Myers’ blog:

    “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,” he said.

    Point of fact – Dawkins didn’t say he couldn’t condemn the abuse that took place “because the standards were different”. He said he couldn’t condemn it *by the same standard* that he would condemn it today.

    Notice the subtle but crucial distortion? It’s taking place throughout FTB… inferring that Dawkins doesn’t condemn the abuse *at all*. This is simply not supported by what he said.

    I compare this statement to my own feelings about the condemnation of racism. Do I condemn racist attitudes held by people such as my grandparents, people raised in the 19th century south, and even our slave-owning founding fathers?

    Yes, I do.

    Do I condemn them by the exact same standard that I would condemn someone who was raised in a more enlightened time and in an information-age context such as myself?

    Eh… probably not. Context matters.

    That is clearly what Dawkins was (clumsily) trying to say, and it’s not only the charitable interpretation (which is not to be expected in or around FTB) but also the reasonable interpretation (which should be expected).

    Look, you don’t have to like Dawkins… He’s not a very skilled communicator. He’s not (in my opinion) the best ambassador for reason. Dawkins leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve seen him struggle with questions that I though were pretty basic. But if you’re going to take shots at him, might I suggest at least basing the criticism on what he’s actually saying?

    Another suggestion (and you can ignore this if you like… it’s just a suggestion)…

    When you have people like prodegtion suggesting that 4 year olds ought to be able to make decisions regarding having sex with adults… do you really want to bury that? Do you really want people NOT to know that people like him exist? I have to say… until he made him comment @ 1.1.5.1 I had no idea that such people existed … I mean people who would purport that a 4-year-old can consent to sex with an adult. To me, that’s a new one.

    What else is buried in this guy’s mind? What evils are we not going to learn about now that he’s been silenced?

    You were more tolerant than a lot of the bloggers on the network, and that’s a positive. But this guy was basically racking up point after point against himself until you put a stop to it. I just don’t see what you gain by silencing people. Were you afraid that he was influencing your readers? I think everyone saw him for what he was.

    He wasn’t spamming, he was expressing horrible ideas, and in doing so, he was providing you a gift – the perfect example of why people need to be on the lookout. People like this need to be exposed in the daylight, not buried.

    Again… just a recommendation. Bloggers do themselves a disservice when they mute the voices that will prove their (bloggers) point.

    Agreed. It’s important to remember that statutory rape laws were designed to keep significantly older adults from preying on children and teenagers, and naturally the age cutoff had to be somewhere, and that somewhere would be a pretty arbitrary age because everyone matures at different rates.

    I have a fundamentalist uncle who, for weeks now, has been trying to argue (to me) that Kaitlyn Hunt is a sexual predator. When one blindly assumes that all statutory rape accusations have equal merit and context means nothing, that’s the sort of mindless crap that ensues.

    1. 12.1
      Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

      Do I condemn them by the exact same standard that I would condemn someone who was raised in a more enlightened time and in an information-age context such as myself?

      Eh… probably not. Context matters.

      Yeah, and the thing you and Dawkins are trying to insist on is that “back then” people didn’t really know that grown men fondling children was bad, espcially when trying to muddy the waters by talking about it in one breath with mentioning corporal punishment which was indeed widely accepted and, contrary to pedophilia, NOT outlawed.

      You were more tolerant than a lot of the bloggers on the network, and that’s a positive. But this guy was basically racking up point after point against himself until you put a stop to it. I just don’t see what you gain by silencing people. Were you afraid that he was influencing your readers? I think everyone saw him for what he was.

      Have you read the exchange? Did you notice that he spewed his crap in response to a reader who talked about his experience with rape as a child? The gain is that victims are protected from repeated re-victimizations and are given a safe space to talk about their abuse. But you seem more interested in a pedophile’s ability to spew shit that a victim’s ability to tell their story. Says a lot about you.

  13. 13
    kacyray

    Yeah, and the thing you and Dawkins are trying to insist on is that “back then” people didn’t really know that grown men fondling children was bad,

    Close, but not quite.

    I am not here to please Dawkins’ case. I am here to say that there was plenty enough to deliberate about what Dawkins actually said without the need to distort it into something he didn’t say.

    As far as the cultural context affecting moral judgment – I am not saying that *back then* people didn’t really know that was wrong. I’m saying that when you are brought up in a time and place where something we currently consider absolutely unacceptable is considered a trivial matter, that will necessarily have an impact on the gravity you assign to the moral question.

    Again, using racism as an example – I am not saying that people didn’t know that owning slaves was wrong. I am saying that they probably didn’t realize it was as horrible as we living today realize that it is.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and conjecture that there are behaviors and attitudes that we – you and I – engage in today that will, in 50 years or so, be deemed quite unacceptable. I can’t predict what it will be (spitting on the sidewalk?), but I can predict that it will happen. Our generation is not exempt from the changing norms and customs of society at large, and if you happen to be around in 100 years, you will probably be very surprised to find that behaviors you probably engage in on a routine basis will be deemed quite intolerable.

    And if you are around, you will probably think to yourself “Yeah, I realize maybe I could’ve acted or thought differently, but we just didn’t see things this way back then!”

    And there will be no shortage of people just like you right now saying “No excuses! You’re just an evil person!!!”

    But you’ll know you aren’t. You’re a product of your times. Just like the Founding Fathers.

    Yes, fondling young boys is wrong. Dawkins knows that. He didn’t say he could not condemn the behavior. He only said he would condemn it by the standard of the time – not by today’s standards.

    Do you really think that our generation is exempt from this? Do your really believe that none of the things you do today, none of the things you feel, none of the attitudes you display, none of the ideas you espouse, none of the morals you hold or the norms you accept, will be condemned as inherently evil by future generations? Do you really believe that none of the actions you engage in on a day-to-day basis which we consider bad (but maybe not really that big a deal) will not be condemned as horribly immoral by future generations? You really think you’re an exception to this?

    Here’s an example… It’s possible that in 50 years smoking will be considered a cardinal sin. People then may look at movies made during our time, of an adult smoking a cigarette around a child. They might even see one of the old Fred Flintstone ads promoting cigarettes.

    They might find it appalling. They may consider it brazen child abuse, based on data they have that we might only be vaguely aware of right now (we know 2nd-hand smoke is bad… but how bad, really? It’s still legal to smoke around children, right?). They might consider the act of polluting the air with cigarette smoke unthinkable in civilized nations. They might consider anyone who does such a thing as lower than dirt, and deserving of being locked away.

    If this hypothetical were to become a reality… should those of us who have, at some point in their lives, lit up a cigarette be condemned by that standard? Or should they consider the time we grew up in… and how smoking phased from being acceptable to unacceptable under this generations watch?

    Have you read the exchange? Did you notice that he spewed his crap in response to a reader who talked about his experience with rape as a child?

    I didn’t read all of it. I read as much as I could before I realized it wasn’t worth reading.

    The gain is that victims are protected from repeated re-victimizations and are given a safe space to talk about their abuse.

    Re-victimization? Really? This word “victim”… I do not think it means what you think it means.

    But you seem more interested in a pedophile’s ability to spew shit that a victim’s ability to tell their story. Says a lot about you.

    And the immediacy with which you turned from having a discussion about ideas into casting aspersions onto me personally says a lot about you. For example.. that you are not someone I’m interested in conversing with anymore. Have a day.

  14. 14
    kacyray

    “I am not here to please Dawkins’ case.”

    Mean to say “plead”. Proofread fail. Sorry.

  15. 15
    kacyray

    There’s a crucial distinction that i think needs to be made here, and i wish I’d included it in my last comment.

    To say, “People in past generations were not as acutely aware of the damaging nature of [insert act here]” is not the same as saying “Back then, it wasn’t as wrong to [insert act here] as it is today.”

    The actions described by Dawkins were as wrong and damaging then as they would be today. I think we all agree on that.

    But the proposition that the awareness of the damage done by such behavior may not have been understood in the past as well as it is understood today is, I believe, not so easily dismissed. Whether you agree with the proposition or not, it merits deliberation.

    1. 15.1
      Ben Crouch

      Very well constructed post Kacray. I wish more people on FTB approached discussion in the civil level headed way you do. I too made the crazy eye at the cat talking about 4 year olds consenting to sexual activities with adults. Apparently this person has never heard of the term ‘informed consent’.

    2. 15.2
      Pen

      @kacyray – It’s a good try at non-cultural relativism through history, but I think it’s possible that what a society considers normal and acceptable becomes less damaging because of that normality. Or across different societies. I’m not going to even try to relate that to the sexual abuse of children (I could actually, but it would involve delving into deep history in a whole range of very foreign cultures) so consider corporal punishment if you can.

      Back in my Dad’s day – which was also Dawkins’ – corporal punishment was absolutely normal, and boys would pretty much exchange their stories with pride. My Dad absolutely does not think the odd caning did him harm, quite the contrary. Probably he’s right

      These days corporal punishment is increasingly frowned upon in our circles and generally not practiced, so imagine the situation of my daughter’s friend who comes from a recent immigrant family and a culture that still considers corporal punishment normal. She lives in the knowledge that her friends are shocked and disturbed by the fact that her parents spank her and although I believe they do not hurt her much physically, I’m pretty concerned about the psychological effect it seems to be having on her*. There’s no doubt in my mind that she’s being far more damaged than my father by a far smaller application of force coupled with an environment at odds with her family’s approach.

      *I’m really hoping for a display of cultural sensitivity here and an absence of people telling me to call the child protection services or anything like that – unless you really believe that would do her less damage in the long run. Where no harm isn’t an option, always go for least harm, know what I mean?

  16. 16
    John Phillips, FCD

    kacyray

    Yes, fondling young boys is wrong. Dawkins knows that. He didn’t say he could not condemn the behavior. He only said he would condemn it by the standard of the time – not by today’s standards.

    Actually Dawkins is wrong, the standards of the time was pretty much the same as now with regards sexual assault or rape of children, at least when it was discovered and believed. The main difference between then and now was the even greater power imbalance between those with authority, e.g. teachers, and those without any, e.g. pupils, such that the chances were the average allegation wouldn’t even be believed. Where it was suspected to be true, perhaps because of a few too many allegations, the accused would simply be allowed to move on to prevent any scandal reflecting badly on the school.

    Where have we heard that story before, remember, much as the RCC would like the world to think their child sexual abuse problem is a relatively modern aberration from the straight and narrow, even their own records show otherwise with some around a century old. Even back then, before the noise might get too much, the priest would simply be moved on to another parish faraway, i.e. back then the church new how wrong it was but its good name was more important.

    The in-bold part of your quote actually only shows more of Dawkins blindness with regard to the world around him, possibly a result of his privileged upbringing and where he has spent most of his life cloistered in academia. Dawkins work on evolution is truly excellent and still something I enjoy reading, but by now he really should learn not to step out of his comfort zone and pontificate so badly on subjects he knows so little about. The apology is a small step in the right direction, but unfortunately, he even spoils that by spouting off in ignorance.

  17. 17
    Tecolata

    I am reminded of the case where a 49 year old man got a whopping 30 day sentence for the rape of a 14 year old student and the judge said it wasn’t a “beat them up” rape, just statutory. And the newspaper coverage claimed the student had “an ongoing relationship” with the teacher. Bullshit. A 14 year old cannot have an “ongoing relationship” with a 49 year old. The accurate reporting would be “the man repeatedly raped the young girl”.

  18. 18
    Pen

    I know some people already said stuff about statutory rape but I was a bit uncomfortable with the idea that it’s just rape, full stop. Being underage and being deemed unable to give consent to something my body and mind were quite ready for and wanted very much was a traumatic experience. With it went lack of privacy, empathy, limited access to contraception, all of which endangered me, and if I had only known, the risk of arrest for my partners but I was NOT raped, in any morally acceptable sense. I was probably exposed to a greater risk of rape by a system that refused to recognise any difference between my consent and the lack of it, and refused to provide a reasonable framework for the expression of my sexuality which, after all, develops continuously from childhood into adulthood, beginning with, you know, those little arrangement you make in kindergarten over viewing rights to each other’s underwear and ever onwards at different rates for different people.

    I think we do need to keep this problem with so called statutory rape in mind and stop treating what 14 year olds do with people +/- a few years their own age as identical to what middle-aged adults do with grade-schoolers. Rape and sexual assault are horrific. It’s also horrific that a 14 year old who knows what she wants can be told, and educated to believe that what she wants is to get raped. And that she’d better get in the habit of entrusting her sexual choices to those who know better than she does because her beliefs about what she wants are obviously deluded. Too bad our laws are out of sync with our sexual development.

  19. 19
    kacyray

    John Phillips, FCD @16

    Thank you! You have fully demonstrated my point that there was plenty enough to discuss and deliberate about what Dawkins *did* say without any need for distortions. And I have seen what he said distorted on almost every blog on this network that addressed it.

    I can’t honestly speak to what the standards of accepted behavior were during a time when I didn’t exist, so I can’t offer an informed opinion on it, nor can I agree or disagree with your assessment. What I can speak about with some degree of confidence is that moral norms evolve as knowledge evolves. And this is not an accident.

    Moral norms are generally based on society’s understanding of how damaging an act is. My “smoking” example is an example of a future hypothetical, but [email protected] provides a great contemporary example of this phenomenon still in action today. The more society begins to understand the deep-running damage caused by a particular activity, the more society at large tends to find the behavior unacceptable.

    This works in reverse, by the way… when society begins to realize that a certain behavior is not as damaging as previously believed, the stigma attached to the behavior starts to fade over time until the behavior becomes not only accepted but engrained and embraced. Right now this is happening with gay marriage and prohibition laws, among other things.

    The argument that society at large might not have understood how much damage “light sexual exploitation” causes to children is a legitimate argument for a different existing standard of behavioral expectation during a certain cultural period. (Let me make it clear that I AM NOT MAKING THAT ARGUMENT – I am only pointing out that such an argument, whether ultimately proved right or wrong, would be legitimate.)

    As Pen pointed out – different cultures in different locations, or even the same culture at different points in history, have different understandings of how damaging corporal punishment (as one example) is to children. Therefore the expectation of behavior is different.

    With that in mind, here’s the argument I *am* discussing…

    IF Dawkins believes that the man who exploited him when he was a child did not fully understand the damaging nature of child sexual exploitation, AND Dawkins believes that such ignorance was borne of the time and place that comprised the man’s cultural context, THEN Dawkins isn’t being unreasonable by judging the man’s behavior by the moral standards inherent in that cultural context.

    Now, I realize that my *if* and my *and* are both subject to debate, and I have no intent of engaging in that debate because I don’t honestly care if the argument ultimately proves to be true or false. It is not my intent to demonstrate the truth value of this argument, only to demonstrate its validity.

  20. 20
    John Phillips, FCD

    kacyray, Dawkins is not that much older than myself, a decade at most, and the time he is talking about, pedophilia when known, i.e. the child was believed, wss treated as it is today. But, like the RCC did, when it became too obvious that something was wrong, possibly because there were just too many complaints, then the perpetrator was simply allowed to move on rather than bring scandal to the school. Why worry about scandal if the attitudes to pedophilia were so different to today.

  21. 21
    kacyray

    @20 John Phillips

    Why worry about scandal if the attitudes to pedophilia were so different to today.

    I don’t know… maybe attitudes were the same. Dawkins was, admittedly, just a child and maybe he’s musing his own perspective as objective fact. Again, I’m not arguing that attitudes about “mild pedophilia” were any different back then.

    Please don’t mistake my attempts to correctly frame the argument as an attempt to defend it. My point was always that Dawkins’ statement and position have been distorted, and that we do ourselves a disservice when we critique something someone didn’t say rather than addressing what they actually said.

    What he said was the couldn’t condemn them by the same standard. Right or wrong, for better or worse, that’s what he said.

    I think the idea of considering cultural context when making moral judgments does have merit. Whether or not the context during Dawkins’ childhood was significantly different than it is today – enough to warrant a modified judgment… I’ll leave that for you to decide.

  1. 22
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