Of course I love to look at my NPR app on my iPad, and this week saw a story on evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who mentions in his new autobiography having been subject to "mild pedophilia" in school. This popped up a few times in my Twitter feed over the previous week also, I assume, because it stood out for its nonsensicality. It is an oxymoron to me, and I can't work out how the interwebs didn't light up in universal disgust. My folks, language snobs from way back, would gently mock those who said "half dead" "a little pregnant" or "genuine imitation." Also, since I know a little about the harm done by pedophiles, I have a strong desire to scream about "mild pedophilia" because even if Dawkins didn't defend it per se, a whole bunch of people defended it while defending him, and I am really angry about it all.
No one should sexualize a child. No one. It isn't mild to do so, no matter what. Sure kids engage in self exploration, sure they play doctor or whatever with each other, but sexual contact intended to result in sexual gratification of the adult or child is simply wrong. I am glad if Dawkins wasn't traumatized by his experience, but I hate that he describes it as "mild" pedophilia. Pedophilia cannot be mild, ever, full stop, and you don't have to be a conservative to say so. When I went strolling about the internet to see what other people thought, my head exploded (metaphorically). How can there be so many people who would justify this type of behavior that falls short of rape and say that it is how conservatives and the religious right condemn normal behavior? Who are these people? A lot of anonymous commenters said things like children need to learn sexual behavior and people in traditional societies masturbate children to calm them and that is not seen as abusive, and only in today's modern society do we create the trauma by telling children they were traumatized.
All these commenters say that Dawkins was not defending mild pedophilia the first time, or when he explained his remarks later in an interview with The Times. Here are the quotes of that interview I found:
Today we read, almost daily, of adults whose childhood was blighted by an uncle perhaps, or even a parent, who would day after day, week after week, year after year, sexually abuse a vulnerable child. The child would often have no escape, would not be believed if he/she told the other parent, or told a teacher. In many cases it is only now, when the abused children have reached adulthood, that these stories are coming out. To make light of their stories, even after all these years, might in some cases re-awaken the trauma of not being believed at the time when it was all happening, and when being believed would have meant so much to the child . . .
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.Something is so very, very wrong that the man doesn't notice the likely connection between this pedophile's actions and his suicide. That teacher knew it was wrong. Who knows what path led from his touching and assaulting unknown numbers of his students, but when he took his life and "upset" his students he made it clear that he knew he was wrong, and who are we to say his molesting wasn't as wrong as some other things are, and not such a big deal? It need not be deeply traumatizing to be wrong, it is enough that that one teacher may have fondled so many boys who didn't tell, who didn't get help, and who then went on to "initiate" other boys that way and thereby doom so many other kids to being victims. The code of silence begins with each victim, and each failure to recognize the harm done, and the minimization of saying "well, it didn't hurt me much" degrades the care we owe to every other child who that perpetrator's actions ultimately affect.
Would Dawkins be able to view this the same way if it had happened to his own child? If he could, then the Selfish Gene he writes of must be dominant in his family, and I am sorry no one could nurture it to less prominence in his psyche, but I surely don't want him as my neighbor, kids' teacher, or professor. I want to be around people for whom children deserve to be protected from intentional harmful actions regardless of the level of harm intended or inflicted. Introducing a young person to sexuality is just plain wrong. Sexualizing a child, acting without consent and without that child being capable of understanding their feelings is not ever mild, it is always and forever a moral wrong. I have never been called conservative but I want to stand up now, for all past and future victims and say, an adult who touches a child and intends sexual gratification or either party is wrong, and not mildly. Pedophilia is not mild at all.