Richard Dawkins, The Amazing Atheist & Our Obsession With Rape

When I first read the Amazing Atheist’s comments targeted at a rape victim on Reddit, my stomach turned. When I first read Richard Dawkins’ tweet containing a comparison of different types of rape, I wanted to argue… but then I thought about it, as we atheists are prone to do, and with the help of TJ’s last video, came to understand it.

You see, I’ve experienced both stranger rape and friend rape, but I’ve never enjoyed the idea of being a victim. In fact, in both instances I didn’t want to tell people I’d been raped simply so that they wouldn’t treat me as such. It wasn’t because I was scared to tell; it wasn’t because I was embarrassed to tell, it was because I hated the idea of anyone seeing me as a victim.

I’ve always been able to handle pretty much anything life throws at me. I considered and still consider myself a strong person. I don’t take too kindly to things getting in my way, and I don’t like to dwell on negative thoughts or events. I enjoy being happy and I thoroughly believe that happiness, for most North Americans, is a choice.

So, both times I was assaulted, this was my biggest concern. I didn’t want it to take away my being happy, my ability to have a normal relationship or connect with men, or start a family. I didn’t want to be angry or depressed.

The first time, I was young and I told only one person. That one person was a guy, M., who ended up being a great friend for over a dozen years, starting in the aftermath of that event. He was and still is one of the most cherished friends I’ve ever had, and thus, I couldn’t help but see this as an over-the-top positive outcome of this attack. If it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have known M.

The Amazing AtheistThe second time, it was committed by a friend that I’d known for a decade, and it was harder. I shut down for a week. I let it sink in. I thought about it. I knew I wanted to move on. So, I did. I reported it, gave the cops my statement and tried to go about my business while they formulated a case against my “friend”.

For the most part, I got through it all. There are still residual effects of both crimes that float around in my subconscious and try to make life difficult for me from time to time. For instance, I don’t like being out alone at night, although now that I live in my new, tiny, little town, I feel much safer. I also feel like I see the face of my ex-friend sometimes, and it sends my heart into panic mode. When I think about both crimes, such as I am now, I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach. All in all, though, none of these things are things I can’t handle easily.

I have chosen not to take the path of victimhood on purpose and I suppose that’s the reason my stomach feels uneasy. Here I am telling you this, trusting that you won’t see me as a victim, but knowing full well that some of you, if not most, likely will. C’est la vie, I suppose.

My stance on all crime, even religiously inspired crime, comes from the perspective of a life-long human rights activist and supporter not a victim. My stance on all crime, comes from a humanist perspective not a survivor. I don’t see it through the eyes of a woman or the eyes of a Canadian or the eyes of a caucasian. I see crime through the eyes of a human being. That part may be easy to digest, but this next bit may be harder for some of you. I am prepared for that.

I believe in the human rights of everyone. Even criminals. Yes, even murderers. Yes, even rapists. It is not human rights, unless it includes all humans.

It’s one thing for me to say that, but let me demonstrate to what extent I actually live this in my own life.

As many of you know, I spent a long time supporting the cause of the Innocence Project. Through my fundraising and research and extensive reading, I learned the many causes of wrongful convictions. One of the biggest causes was fabricated or false witness testimony. When I reported my second assault, it was a week after the fact, as we have already established. There was no evidence other than what I said. In a fair world, this case would be thrown out. In Canada, apparently, this is enough to go ahead with prosecution.

I kept meeting with crown counsel so they could go over it and over it with me, being as I was the sole witness, and my words the only evidence. Our meetings turned into an interrogation of them by me. I would ask, “If you can prosecute this case with no evidence, do you prosecute every case with only one witness as evidence? What if the witness wasn’t telling the truth? What if someone claimed rape because they wanted to ruin someone’s life? Don’t you need more than this?” and on and on. I would hound them constantly simply because my conscience, that of a human rights activist, would not allow me to keep my mouth shut. Do you know what they said to me, when I asked them, “I thought it was ‘innocent until proven guilty’?”? They said, “No, that’s the USA”. I was suddenly aware of how many wrongfully convicted people there must be in Canada. I became infuriated with the entire ordeal.

When I found out the defendent had been denied legal aid and was planning to represent himself, I told crown counsel I would not be testifying. First, I didn’t believe that prison time was what would help him and second, he was walking into a trap which, although my accusations were true, represented for me the many trials of the many men and women whose DNA testing I raised funds for, whose stories had been the sum total of my reading material for the previous 5 years, who’d been locked up for crimes they did not commit. This, this was far more traumatic for me than either crime I’d experienced. This was a direct violation of human rights happening before my very eyes, in my own country where I didn’t think shit like this happened. I was being used as a tool in the very machine I had been fighting so hard against. It absolutely gutted me. I knew not testifying meant the case would be dropped, but I did it anyway. I walked away.

Some of you may be shocked at my decision, because he is free, but you have to understand that being okay with an unfair trial will result and has resulted in far more victims than any one offender could create in a lifetime. My rape did not compare to the entire system being broken and endlessly creating its own victims. Yes, it sucked. Yes, I wish it didn’t happen. Yes, I’m pissed at my friend for ruining what was a totally cool friendship between two nerds. But no, it is not worse than millions more people becoming victims as well. Being a cog in that machine, would have been much, much worse for me.

This is the extent to which I will go, to protect a man’s right to a fair trial. I was able to go to this extent because I saw it rationally. I wish I could say the same for the entire atheist community, who are currently at war over which way is the right way to talk about rape.

From my perspective, which I would venture to say is one of some authority on the topic, there are points being made by either side of this totally irrational war that make complete sense.

1. Rape jokes do not indicate the teller is a rapist or a rape advocate. It’s just a joke. I’ve told rape jokes myself… the Pope’s usually in ’em, but they’re still rape jokes.

2. Threatening to rape a person in the heat of an argument for shock value, does not constitute a joke. However, it also does not make a rapist. It’s usually a sign that person is just a general asshole… until he recognizes he made mistakes and apologizes, at which point, we should all be grown ups and think about the most cringeworthy things we’ve ever uttered and think harder about how none of us are fucking perfect. You still don’t have to like the guy, but certainly recognize that he’s committed no crime and only acted in a way that every last one of us has at one point or another.

3. If you’re going to use rape as an example in a logical argument, it’s totally your right and I won’t take offense. I could, using reason and logic, come up with a million less heaty examples for you to use, but if you choose to use the example of rape to make your point, it doesn’t change the point.

4. Saying the word rape, will make a rape victim recall their rape. This is not something that can be helped. For me, it’s a flash, the uneasiness in my tummy as I mentioned, and then I reason it out. For others, it’s a much stronger response. So, yes, of course, by all means use the word rape peppered throughout your conversations as much as you want, but I think it makes a statement about your character when you choose to use it more often and in the context of jokes and shocking comments directed at one person who has experienced rape before. You’re making someone vividly recall what could have been the most terrifying moment in their lives… ultimately for attention. While listening to a comedian rattle off rape jokes doesn’t bother me, if my husband came home tomorrow and started yelling random shocking things about rape at me, I would have no choice but to reconsider the type of man I thought he was.

5. I agree with Richard Dawkins when he says that saying “I’m offended!” amounts to jack squat. However, just because we maintain the right to offend, doesn’t mean we must always go out of our way to try to. Sometimes, and this may come as a shock to some of you, there are far more effective ways to get your point across.

6. If you find that more often than not, large chunks of the very community you belong to are recoiling in disgust at the things you say and do, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the things you say and do. Either that or just accept the criticism and quit defending yourself. You’re obviously doing it on purpose, so don’t act shocked and bewildered at the reaction you get. You fully intended it and you’re not fooling anyone. It’s like painting your house red and then complaining that your house is red.

7. You cannot identify as someone who operates wholly on logic and reason if your entire schtick is being the angry guy who says things that shock. Reason and anger rarely hang out in the same places.

I don’t believe there is any wrong way to talk about rape. There is not a problem on this planet that can’t be solved without first starting a conversation about it. Talking about rape in any capacity, will help bring that conversation out into the open. If we talk about it enough, eventually it could become something parents commonly talk to their kids about, and teachers talk to their students about, and maybe even one day, we could live in a world that can recognize troubled people and help them before they make victims in the first place. Talking about rape in any way we can is a good thing.

I guess I just kind of hoped the atheist community could have been the one community talking about it rationally, rather than turning people into villains who really just have anger problems or self-editing issues. I kind of hoped the atheist community wouldn’t be the community that has divided itself down one very illogical line.

I tweeted last night that I feel like a kid with parents who can’t stop arguing. I hear you all, and every one of you has great points. If we could find a way to talk about them rationally and not see our differences as dividing lines, we might actually be able to affect change with our conversation. So, what do you say atheists? How about we settle the witch hunts down and go back to being the rational community?

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Category: About Godless Mom, Debate | Tags:
  • You already know my thoughts on this subject.

    Well done you for openly saying something that really needed to be said.

  • John Cockerill

    Godless Mom,
    An excellent piece and thoughtful. Frankly one of your better pieces. Well done. Thank you.

  • Renjith

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. This is one of the more balanced perspectives I’ve read, and certainly the one I can relate to the most. But how did you find Prof.Dawkins’ blog on discussing taboos.

  • NBAtheist

    I have shared this with everyone I can and will continue to do so for as long as it is relevant. Sadly, I think that will be for some time to come as humans have a long way to go before we evolve beyond these base and primal instincts.

    Thank you very much for your bravery, reason, inhumanity.

  • Judy

    Thank you for sharing. I too have been raped and I feel you have stated much more eloquently than I ever could, my attitude about the situation.

    One of the problems is atheism attracts people from a lot of different perspectives, and not all of them are rational. I know I tend to expect people who agree with me on one issue to agree with me about most other issues, but that just isn’t the case. It is important to be able to talk about rape, and other issues in our community, openly without condemnation as long as the person is trying to communicate honestly, even if it comes out awkwardly. By educating people, the way you have done, we can help everyone.

    Thank you for being so brave, it takes a lot of strength to be so open and I admire you for that.

    • Thank you very much for reading and for your encouragement. It can be hard to talk about this stuff for some, but the more we do talk about it, the easier it gets.

  • MatsB

    Hey Mom,
    I’m sorry to hear about your afore mentioned experiences but at the same time relieved that you have worked through it and come out stronger with a sense of reason still attached.

    I also follow TJ on the interwebs and even though I might disagree with him on some subjects I understand his way of highlighting a problem. He often takes an extreme point of view and runs with it to cause a discussion although nowadays the discussion gets turned on its head, it becomes more about the messenger than the message.

    And regarding the “schism” among atheists at the moment.
    I am a feminist, but I still can use reason, very much unlike the FTB and A+ crowd. For them it’s all or nothing. The only thing we can agree on, is that we do not believe in deities or the supernatural. So instead of calling myself a feminist today, I prefer to call myself a humanist. All humans should be equal no matter what gender, skin tone or even if you believe or not.

  • Bamidele Adeneye

    Wow, Courtney. Fantastic read.

  • Jetlagg

    I’ve been following the whole Dawkins debacle, as I’m a fan of his (despite some severe differences of opinion at times), and I believe his most recent post was beautifully written and illustrates exactly what is wrong with the idea of shutting down certain kinds of language and discussion on the grounds that it could traumatize someone. This is a talk I think we need to have, and your piece adds a great deal to it. Thank you for that.

    • Thank you. I agree. I don’t think anything should be off limits.

  • This story blows me away. I saw the video of TJ and agreed with him where the line is and was happy he said it, but I am also happy that other atheists can support what he says.

    What you did was amazing amount of courage and it is a lacking trait in humanity.

  • Forbidden Fruit

    Absolutely amazing post. Just when I think I could not be more impressed with your writing or views I read something else and am proven wrong. Keep up the great work!!

    • Thank you so much for your continued support of my blog 😀

  • Bad Girl Bex

    You lady are a force to be reckoned with. I had no idea that you’d been involved with the Innocence Project in the past, but I can see why someone like you would be drawn to it. Your mixture of compassion, intellectual honesty, objectivity and the refusal to allow horrible past experiences have a negative effect on your outlook/approach to life, just make me really happy to have discovered your writing/videos. And I’m really glad that you’re an active member of the atheist community online, because you’re a shining example of how I believe we so-called rational types, should be approaching topics and conducting ourselves online.

    I too was in complete agreement with TJ over this matter. I remember watching his video explaining his position and thinking that yep, he made perfect sense, but perhaps I was only able to look at it from the privileged position of never having been on the receiving end of such an assault. Having just read your own experiences, I am pleasantly surprised at your candour and ability to consider not just yourself, but the ex-friend, during the trial preparation. I really wish there were more people out there, willing to consider that a ‘victim’ status just isn’t going to benefit them in any way. Of course there are many people, who for whatever reason, will have been massively traumatised by experiencing sexual assault, but as I have always suspected, you are proof that not every incident needs to result in a loss of confidence, trust, quality of life or sense of agency.

    I can never put myself in that position to try and imagine how it must feel or affect one’s life. But individuals like yourself, who are willing to explain their position and put their story out there, will hopefully help others in this situation realise that there is life after a truly heinous thing like rape. Some probably do find a bit of comfort in allowing themselves to adopt a victim status, but I’m really impressed with you and proud of you for processing this as rationally as possible and for choosing life, over a self-imposed life-sentence.

    Much love & total respect

    Bex

    x

    • Thanks so much, Bex. I do have to say though, that I think my upbringing has a lot to do with how I was able to deal with this. Some people are cut down their whole lives, and have no sense of self worth and it is very easy to cut them down more and more. If someone like that were to experience rape, they would likely react much differently than me and it would hardly be their fault. I do think that even though it is possible to come out of it choosing not to be a victim, but not for everyone. Some people can’t deal with it, based on little to no support and a self-worth that is in the gutter through no fault of their own.

      The thing is, sexual assault will never be something we are free of, so long as our society deals with sexual health the way it does. As long as shame is associated with any sort of sexual act, people will try to repress their natural urges and repression of anything that powerful will only come out in deeply sinister ways. We need to learn to celebrate sex and practice it safely. Once we do that, the vast majority of sexual encounters will be healthy ones.

      • Bad Girl Bex

        I’m not American but I still think you should run for president!

        • lol, no thanks. That’s too much of an undertaking! I have a blog to write!

  • Jonathan Tweet

    I agree that the atheist community should be the one place where people can have a rational discussion on sensitive topics. Here in Seattle, I’m trying to set up moderated dialogs on sensitive topics so that we can have discussions that rise above the noise. Maybe we’ll put rape on our list of topics to address.

    • Let me know how that goes. Sounds like a really great thing.

  • 13MaverickZ

    you, godless mom, are one of the very few people that puts just a tiny little bit of faith back into the human race for me. in this maelstrom of post-90s mindless consumption, the very human concept of “political correctness” as an inhibitor to free speech, and basically the ever-increasing number of buffoons and ignoramuses (ignoramusii? lol) that we are in the unfortunate position of being forced to accept while society spirals deeper and deeper into the toilet (in an anti-clockwise direction of course, this being australia 😉 ), you are a shining beacon of intelligence, boldness and womanly strength that can not be shut down. i dearly hope you keep making a difference not only in your community, but to fearful and oppressed people everywhere, because we all need more people not only capable but ready and willing to cut through the utter bullshit we are force-fed daily.

    i would like to say something about us non-believers. just because we are united in condemning organised religion, does not mean we are rational in every subject – as evidenced in this blog. how best to discuss the subject of rape? ive known people down the years who toe a very fine line between consent and non-consent, but at the same time ive known people, and i include myself in this category, who would enjoy completely de-genitalising men who even speak of sexual assault in terms of being comfortable with it. just because a man says he does not believe in god, does not preclude him from making insensitive or broad and sweeping comments about it, bad jokes, or abusing rape victims and so on. i am in no way an authority on the subject, but i am not at all sure in my mind that we can come together in one considered and enlightened viewpoint about the best way to approach such a disturbing topic, and i fear that, with opinions being like arseholes in that everybody has one and theyre usually full of shit, we may be further than ever from being able to come together on said viewpoint.

    • I agree. being atheist does not mean one is smart or kind, or compassionate. Thank you so much for all the kind words!

  • Durinn McFurren

    Thanks for posting this. I understand the desire to not tell people what happened to you because you don’t want them to treat you differently.

    There’s one point where I don’t agree with you. I too am appalled at the number of innocent people who are convicted by our legal systems. Yet to me, due process is not an essential part of justice. Due process, rather, is intended to facilitate justice. If I were absolutely sure that a person were guilty, a lack of due process would not bother me in their case. It would still bother me that the system permits a lack of due process, of course, but I would personally have gone ahead with the prosecution regardless if I were absolutely sure of the person’s guilt. Due process is important because normally, we don’t have access to any definitive assurance of a person’s guilt, so we need a set of criteria that will prevent innocents from getting hurt.

  • Mohit Mago

    I get emotionally raped and financially by my parents, country, and extended family daily.

  • George McWhinnie

    No trigger warning hysteria for Mom. Good for her.

  • Durinn McFurren

    I agree with a lot of this, but I don’t agree with the decision not to prosecute the guy on the grounds that the system was railroading him. I see due process as a tool for achieving justice, not as a prerequisite or inherent part of the definition of justice. If I knew someone were guilty, I would have no problem with seeing them punished even if they didn’t receive due process. Due process exists so that people will be less able to get the innocent convicted, and it is instrumentally good for that reason, yes, but it is not an intrinsically valuable or necessary thing.