Oxford feminists have attacked tweets made by Richard Dawkins, in which he said that “stranger rape at knifepoint” was worse than “date rape”. He later tweeted similar comments comparing “mild date rape” and “violent date rape”.

He had earlier made tweets comparing the relative immorality of “mild paedophilia” and “violent pedophilia”.

Dawkins, a fellow of New College, and an internationally-renowned proponent of atheism, claimed to be attempting to illustrate a logical point on morality; namely, that by saying an action is worse than another, one does not automatically advocate the alternative action.

Oxford student and feminist campaigner Alice Nutting told Cherwell, “Dawkins’ tweets reveal his failure to grasp the severity of sexual violence. His abstract comparisons of ‘mild date rape’ to ‘violent date rape’ and ‘date rape’ to ‘stranger rape at knifepoint’ perpetuate myths about some forms of rape being worse than others.”

She continued, “The fact that he was making logical syllogisms does not absolve him of responsibility to approach these issues sensibly and sensitively; it was grossly insensitive and his refusal to recognise that is worrying.”

Likewise, former Wadham Students’ Union President Anya Metzer commented, “Dawkins’ decision to illustrate a point of logic with flippant and unnecessary references to ‘mild’ and ‘violent’ rape suggests he has more interest in garnering notoriety than teaching a lesson in argumentation. The idea of ranking forms of rape and the arbitrary and sweeping manner in which this was conducted belie a mind devoted for decades to scientific rigour.

“The deeply unsettling and provocative nature of his comments were clearly designed to bait the twitter audience and thus excite some attention around his frankly pedestrian point. It is greatly disheartening to see public figures and indeed scholars of our university contribute to the glib and insensitive treatment of rape found so commonly in the media.” 

Following widespread online criticism of his comments, Richard Dawkins has defended the tweets. Writing on his website, he said, “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.”

He added, “I wasn’t even saying it is right to rank one kind of rape as worse than another (that caused an immense amount of agony and a scarcely creditable level of vitriolic abuse in the Twittosphere). You may be one of those who thinks all forms of rape are equally bad, and should  not, in principle be ranked at all, ever.

“In that case my logical point won’t be relevant to you and you don’t need to take offence – although you might have trouble being a judge who is expected to give heavier sentences for worse versions of the same crime. 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 (whichever particular kinds those might be), this doesn’t imply that you approve of the less bad one. It is still bad. Just not as bad.”