Please shut up and stop telling rape victims what kind of rape is the worst

Photo: Alamy

“Dawkins is right. He just is. Getting raped in an alleyway while having a knife held to your throat is worse than being taken advantage of while inebriated at the end of a date.” So says my colleague Brendan O’Neill, in response to Richard Dawkins’s characteristically unhelpful comments about rape.

I know it is ridiculous that I’m writing this, a response to a response to the response to a tweet, but I don’t want this to stand unchallenged. Dawkins, as usual, is saying something broadly obvious – that there exist gradations of horrible things – in a dumbly unreflective and needlessly offensive way (“mild rape”! Who chooses the word “mild” in that context?). Brendan says he’s right. Some rapes are worse than other rapes. And specifically, getting “raped in an alleyway while having a knife held to your throat” is worse than “being taken advantage of while inebriated at the end of a date”.

To which I ask Brendan, and Dawkins: how do you know?

I’ve never been a victim of rape, so I can’t comment upon what it must feel like. But I do know that the reason it is terrible is not because of the physical pain; it is, I think, to do with the feeling of violation, the sense of powerlessness, and the sense of a betrayal of trust, and a whole host of other psychological injuries which aren’t necessarily related to any physical ones. It doesn’t necessarily help to use “two punches in the face is worse than one punch in the face” analogies. It seems perfectly possible to me that while being raped at knifepoint sounds worse to those of us who have never experienced it, being “taken advantage of while inebriated” by someone you trust, in a situation where you previously felt safe, might in many cases be worse, for some victims. Maybe it’s not. I don’t know. Nor, I imagine, does Brendan.

Dawkins might be right. It might well be the case that some rapes are “worse”, in some sense, than other rapes (although I would strongly counsel against calling any of them “mild”). But it seems to me that those of us who have never been raped telling those who have which ones are worse, with no reference to anything other than our own assumptions, is insensitive at best and utterly crass and devoid of empathy at worst. So I ask everyone to stop doing it, because you haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about, any more than I do.

• I’m turning comments off on this, by the way. If you must, you can tell me on Twitter why I’m a coward and a Stalinist censor for doing so.

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