Child Sexual Abuse


I know I am not supposed to blog on this any longer, especially as I just did a blog on child abuse yesterday, but I keep coming across ignorance on the topic, which distresses me. The latest is from Richard Dawkins in his much-lauded book The God Delusion. He writes in that book in a sentence of startling arrogance, “Priestly abuse of children is nowadays taken to mean sexual abuse, and I feel obliged at the outset, [of what? He is 354 pages into his book] to get the whole matter of sexual abuse into proportion and out of the way.” [By “into proportion” he obviously means the rest of us are making too big a deal out of it. What he means by “out of the way” is puzzling. Whose way does he mean?]

He then, like so many men who wish to deny the reality of child abuse, speaks of a “time of hysteria about pedophilia” [hey, lighten up feminists, they are just men who like little children] and adds the obligatory cliché of the Salem witch-hunts, as if he saw no difference between the belief in witches and the belief in child sexual abuse. [Hint: Witches don’t exist; child abuse does].

He goes on to speak of the “infamous Magdalene Asylums.” He blames lawyers for forcing the victims to “rake over the distant past” [After all, they closed in 1996, couldn’t they just shut up about it?]. He calls the abuse (which was horrific, as we know from any number of sources, including the excellent and reliable film by Peter Mullan The Magdalene Sisters), “fumbles in the vestry,” as if the predators meant no real harm. These happened so long ago, he laments, that “the alleged offender is likely to be dead and unable to present his side of the story.” There were 1,500 witnesses to abuse who testified in court. But the other side did not get to claim it was all a dreadful misunderstanding. [In all, some 30,000 women were incarcerated and abused in every possible way, but this too must be seen in perspective! – I know, enough sarcasm now].

Does it matter at all that Richard Dawkins, England’s most famous public intellectual, and the Oxford Professor for Public Understanding of Science, disseminates crass and false information about child sexual abuse? Of course it does. The book in which he makes his ludicrous statements was named “Best Book of the Year in 2008 by The Economist, Financial Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Capital Times, Kirkus Review, and others. They did not qualify their praise (nor did any of the hundreds of reviewers) with a caveat about the nonsense he spouted about child abuse.

What is it about child abuse that drives otherwise intelligent men into drivel? How could somebody with Dawkin’s intellect not see the glaring illogic of his views? How can he so easily pronounce on something about which he clearly knows next to nothing, and to do so with such brazen pseudo-authority, completely undeserved and buttressed by nothing except a heart-stopping intellectual arrogance? That is a topic well worth pondering. For the moment, I don’t have an ans

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13 Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

  1. Ashana M says:

    People have many reasons they need not to know the truth. We don’t want to live in the world that exists, as dreadful as it sometimes is. We don’t want to believe in the horrors our own species is capable of enacting against one another. The situation is close to us, perhaps, and we don’t want to believe that either. We don’t, for example, want to believe a situation existed within our own family or community. We don’t, even, sometimes want to believe we have done something terrible ourselves. It’s hard to know what Dawkin’s particular reasons would be. But it is often not ignorance that you come across, but I willful act of turning away from the truth. People know, but the world is a simpler, more manageable place if you refuse to know what you know.

  2. Caro Jeff, è stato un enorme danno, per la psicoanalisi, perdere un ingegno come il tuo, che ancora è per essai una spina nel fianco. Tu sei stato come i ladri del cimitero reale di Ur, che hanno portato alla luce ciò che era sepolto. Non cesseremo mai di esserti grati. Gianni Guasto

  3. katy meigs says:

    Well, it stopped Freud in his tracks and virtually killed Ferenczi. But things change. If very slowly. women have taken the lead, frankly after your exposure of Freud. Someone like Allan Ginsburg was a setback as far as boys go. But finally there are some convictions, more exposes with more exposure. A tide of victims will have to speak out more and bring more suits. Victims need to write against retros like Dawkins (whom I’d never heard of or read). Think of it: Never before has a pope resigned because of fear of lawsuits over sex abuse by clergy. He covered it up. Male theorists and clinicians are going to have to get a lot more real.

    In the same vein, when will people stop hitting their dogs? Old ways die hard.

  4. windheel says:

    What is trauma? What counts as abuse? Why should the existence of either generate a moral panic?
    A straightforward answer would be- trauma can cause dysphoria; it can warp and damage its victim. Only those actions which cause injury, above some threshold level of likelihood, count as abuse. A moral panic, however misguided, is a Society’s response to Public awareness of a type of abuse believed to meet the above stipulation and the existence of moral panics is one of the ways a Society affirms that it is actually functioning as such. At the same time, a Knowledge based Society is going to have Public Intellectuals as well as Policy Makers trained in Quantitative Methods who can ensure that a moral panic doesn’t damage Society by shedding light on the causes, consequences and relative frequency of the abuse and considering methods to best curb it.
    Dawkins is doing none of these things. Why? Well, if he had kept up with developments in his own field- in particular the importance of epigenetic effects- he would have been obliged to take an opposite tack- i.e. show how systemic child abuse can warp an entire Society for generations- if unchecked, the abuse moves that Society away from the Evolutionarily Stable State with the result that it shrinks and survives only as a pathogen.
    Why is Dawkins doing this? Perhaps, like Freud, his world-view requires a specific sort of instinctual renunciation such that he gets to win his argument against God. The sort of Society in which that can happen requires not just child abuse, but every other sort of abuse, to be minimized and ignored.

  5. Mike Power says:

    I feel you are being a little unfair to Dawkins. His main point in the book was that the fear that religion, and in particular, Catholicism instills in young minds is possibly worse than physical or sexual abuse. We can argue with this, and I for one certainly would, but he is nor minimising abuse. Indeed, he was sexual bused himself as a boy. Take a look at his explanation here:

  6. JCS says:

    “Witches don’t exist; child abuse does.” — Well said.

    I see this as an example of Richard Dawkins succumbing to “Elderly Professor Syndrome”: because the professor is an authority on one topic — in Dawkins’s case, genetics and evolution — he feels entitled to make “expert” disquisitions on other topics about which he has no expert knowledge. All too many men and women find it intoxicating to be treated as an authority, and develop an unhealthy respect for their own intellectual abilities.

    By contrast, I am very glad that you pointed out the crucial role of evidence and testimony in bringing child abuse cases to light.

  7. resident_alien says:

    Richard Dawkins was himself abused as a child while in boarding school in Britain.
    He claims it did him “no harm other than embarrassment”.
    That man is so deep in denial,he wishes to force his denial on the rest of us.
    Bitterly ironic for a man who fancies himself a fighter for truth and rationalism.
    I, for one, am done with him.

  8. Let’s not pussy-foot around . . . . .the term “child abuse” is sanitized. . . . . putting it in the same language stream as “substance abuse” “verbal abuse” – and nowadays so frequently, the abuse of power in government and the abuse of position in the corporate world. Lets call a spade a spade. This is rape. . . .The perpetrator is a brute. . .And the victim is a powerless child. . . . I enjoyed Dunayer’s book Animal Equality – it alerted me to the fact that language could be used to turn otherwise sensible people into fools.

    • BD says:

      Ugh. Yes. This. I once overheard my ex-husband telling someone I had been molested as a child. It was so…nothing. And yet somehow, more shameful. Thank you Philip for not pussy-footing around!

  9. Con este panorama,en que una mente brillante y defensora del racionalismo,niega y distorsiona minimizando la verdadera tragedia del abuso infantil-en todas sus formas-,comprendemos el tipo de presión que debe haber vivido Freud en su época,y que lo llevó a dejar de lado los hallazgos que él mismo había realizado.Más de 100 años después,esas mismas fuerzas tiñen el clima cultural,aunque tantos premios al libro de Dawkins por parte de organizaciones y publicaciones renombradas,hacen pensar no sólo en la negación,sino en una auténtica campaña de ocultamiento. Qué ironía,un hombre que ha dedicado su vida a luchar contra lo irracional,termina en el mismo lugar que aquellas instituciones oscurantistas, promoviendo la disociación, la negación y el ocultamiento, sirviendo así a la perpetuación de los abusos.

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