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Richard Dawkins Rape Tweets: Atheist Admits Mistake: 'I Should Have Used Quotation Marks'

30/07/2014 11:34 BST | Updated 30/07/2014 11:59 BST

An apparently humble, yet defiant Richard Dawkins has addressed the online storm he caused via a series of tweets in which he classed certain types of rape and paedophilia as “worse” and milder than others.

The 73-year-old insisted he had been attempting to make a “simple, logical point” when he sparked the “tsunami” of agonised attacks, among which he was branded “a danger to women”.

He blogged: “In both my hypothetical examples, I made the mistake of forgetting to put quotation marks around the hypothetical quotations.”

richard dawkins

Professor Richard Dawkins has admitted making a 'mistake'

Citing this tweet: “X is bad, Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically,” Dawkins claimed he had initially demonstrated his logical process in the absence of any specific examples.

He then “fleshed it out” with two such examples:

“Mild pedophilia [sic] is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophila, go away and learn how to think.”

And

“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”

He then repeated the statement, altering his phrasing slightly: “'Mild date rape is bad. Violent date rape is worse.' Is it really so hard to understand that that doesn’t constitute endorsement of either?”

In his blog, Dawkins, who is himself a survivor of child sexual abuse, said of the paedophilia tweet: "I should of course have said RELATIVELY mild. Obviously I don't think pedophilia [sic] is mild in an absolute sense.

"But I presume most victims would agree that being touched by an adult hand (though very unpleasant as I know from my own childhood experience) is RELATIVELY speaking not SO unpleasant as being violently penetrated by an adult penis. But the logical point is, or should be, uncontroversial: no endorsement of the less bad option is implied."

He added: “The second one, for instance, should be amended to: ‘Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse.’ If you think anybody who said that would thereby be endorsing date rape, go away and learn how to think.”

Richard Dawkins 'rape' backlash

Jody Woodward, a spokesman for East London Rape Crisis, a service within the charity NIA, told Huffington Post UK: “Rape itself is a violent act regardless of whether any physical force is used. For survivors there is no hierarchy as to what constitutes ‘better’ or ‘worse’ rape. Rape is rape; there is no such thing as mild rape.

“Around 90% or rapes are committed by men known to the victim/survivor, these worrying myths around ‘real’ rape being committed by strangers at knifepoint can impact on women feeling they can come forward to report the abuse and feeling they will be believed.

“The impacts and consequences of rape for victim/survivors are no lesser because there was no knife involved and to suggest this is the case is discrediting the voices of survivors.”

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But Dawkins remains defiant of his point, writing: “Actually, it’s rather plausible that some people might find date rape WORSE than being raped by a stranger (let’s leave the ‘at knifepoint’ out of it).

“Think of the disillusionment, the betrayal of trust in someone you thought was a friend. But my logical point remains unchanged. It applies to any hypothetical X and Y, which could be reversed.

“Thus: ‘Being raped by a stranger is bad. Being raped by a formerly trusted friend is worse’ If you think that hypothetical quotation is an endorsement of rape by strangers, go away and learn how to think.”

Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty told The Telegraph her “jaw dropped” when she heard of Dawkins’ comments.

She said: “I know there are men of a certain generation who clunk around on this subject but it’s really not good enough. It sends a very bad signal.

shami chakrabarti

'There's no such thing as a little bit of rape or a mild rape': Shami Chakrabarti

“There’s no such thing as a little bit of rape or a mild rape. Let’s just get that clear once and for all.”

Dawkins’ blog, which he says he hopes is the “last word” on the matter, adds: “I wasn’t even saying it is RIGHT to rank one kind of rape as worse than another... You may be one of those who thinks all forms of rape are EQUALLY bad, and shoud not, in principle, be raked over at all, ever.

“In that case my logical point won’t be relevant to you and you don’t need to take offence.

“All I was saying is that IF you are one of those who is prepared to say that one kind of rape is worse than another… this doesn’t imply that you approve of the less bad one. It is still bad. Just not AS bad.”

Chakrabarti added: “Of course rapes can be aggravated by abuses of trusts including what they call ‘date rape’, which is a profound abuse of trust. And of course rape can be aggravated by all sorts of factors by kidnap and violence and torture, which is reflected in sentencing but not in what makes a rape per se.

“There is no mild rape, there is no mild paedophilia. These are terrible crimes that can be aggravated by additional cruelty.”