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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

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 Atheist

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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