Concerning criminals, the United States and most civilized first world counties would agree, and rightly so, that when it comes to offenses, among the worst are sex crimes and if you want to go even further concerning the most repulsive acts anyone can commit, you could say that forcing children to partake in sex acts would be among the worst of the worst.
This brings us to a recent interview by Time Magazine involving a prominent intellectual in the atheist community and some of his more recent comments concerning pedophilia.
World-renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins admitted in an interview that he was once a victim of sexual assault by an adult authority figure when he was a child. He said that a schoolmaster put him on his knee and inserted his hand in Dawkins' shorts. Dawkins dismissed the event in his life as "mild" pedophilia and said that he wasn't really affected by it. He was speaking as a victim and was speaking for himself and about his own experience.
Dawkins went on to say,
“I am very conscious that you can’t condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. Just as we don’t look back at the 18th and 19th centuries and condemn people for racism in the same way as we would condemn a modern person for racism, I look back a few decades to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can’t find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today.”
What he was saying was that the further back we go in our nation's history, the less civil our nation becomes. We stumble across Jim Crow, a society without sexual harassment policies in the workplace, and even slavery. Dawkins wasn't excusing nor defending the behavior that he experienced as a child; far from it. He was saying that in today's society, people are and should be held more accountable for their actions when compared to actions that took place decades ago, when sexual assault, though horrible, was more easily dismissed.
The story is now being blown out of proportion namely among outlets such as Salon.com, a news outlet which had an article entitled "Richard Dawkins defends 'mild pedophilia,' says it does not cause 'lasting harm'" where a columnist attempts to paint Dawkins as saying that pedophilia isn't really all that bad. The problem is he didn't say that. If anyone would be so bold as to defend Dawkins' comments concerning pedophilia, however mild, one could say that Dawkins' was specifically speaking about his own instance of being sexually assaulted and that he was attempting to be "tough-minded" about his own experience, trying to brush it off saying it really didn't negatively affect him. He wasn't speaking about the kind of pedophilia where penetration occurs. He was talking about being groped by an adult as a child.
Dawkins even took to Twitter defending himself tweeting "Is anyone seriously denying that raping an 8-year-old to death is worse than putting a hand inside a child's clothes? Are you that ABSOLUTE?"
So, to sum up this purported "scandal" concerning the evolutionary biologist talking of his own experience not affecting him negatively, this incident could be considered "mild."