Covering up abuse – We are all gymnasts


Rachel Denhollander at the trial of Larry Nasser

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write: In the wake of metoo, collective movements are now exposing cover-ups from the top. The target is no longer just one individual, a Strauss-Kahn, a Bill Clinton or a Clarence Thomas. These movements are shouting: it’s a whole system. The class inequalities that protect abuse are being exposed. This is cause for joy, and hope.

The Larry Nasser case provides a brutal example. At Nasser’s trial last month more than 160 survivors of abuse testified about what he had done to them. Nasser was a doctor for the athletics department at Michigan State University, and for the United States national Olympic team in gymnastics. The stories the survivors told were moving, and horrific. Nasser abused thousands of girls, some as young as six, by fingering them vaginally and anally for his own pleasure, over a period of more than twenty years.

Nasser was only able to do what he did because dozens of people  covered up for him. This fits with what we have seen in the many cases the Metoo movement has begun to expose. Only a minority of men abuse. Most men do not do those things. But the men who do it, do it over and over again, so almost every woman suffers.

But though only a minority of men are perpetrators, almost all senior managers, men and women, have covered up abuse, and thus enabled it to continue. All humans relations departments, and almost all women’s officers, deans, heads of departments and senior professionals have silenced complaints. All law firms of any size have arranged many ‘non-disclosure agreements’, one of the central ways of covering up abuse. All lawyers, men and women, know this. Continue reading


Strike against Rape at South African University

rhodes 1Students at Rhodes University in South Africa went on strike today (20 April) against rape culture on campus. The police opened fire with rubber bullets and teargas, and arrested several students. The situation is electric, it is national news, and there are rumours the action will spread to other campuses. Continue reading

The Five Chinese Feminists

Chinese feminists protesting against domestic violence in blood spattered bridal gowns

Chinese feminists protesting against domestic violence in blood spattered bridal gowns

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale write:  Five Chinese feminists have been arrested for planning to protest against sexual harassment. They face five to ten years in jail. This post explains the background to the case, and suggests ways that other activists around the world can show solidarity.

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Gang abuse in Oxford

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale

Last year seven men from Oxford were convicted in court on multiple counts of rape and abuse of young women and girls. They were part of a criminal gang that prostituted the girls for money. They concentrated on needy and vulnerable girls. The rapes usually began when the girls were between eleven and fifteen. The recent official report estimates, conservatively, that a total of 370 girls in Oxfordshire have been abused by gangs since 2005.

All seven of the men convicted were Asian. Six of the survivors testified. The fascist English Defence League has called a national demonstration in Oxford on April 4. They say that the council and the police did nothing because they were protecting Asians.

Unite Against Fascism and the local trades council have called for a mobilisation against the EDL on the same day, to prevent them from using the suffering of Oxfordshire children for their own ends. They are right to do so.

However, we need more than that. The local Labour MP, Andrew Smith, has called for an official inquiry to investigate how abuse on this scale was allowed to happen. He too is right.

But we also have to face the question of who is to blame for allowing the abuse to continue. In this blog we confront the racist arguments about abuse head on. In doing so, we have to say who is to blame for allowing the abuse to continue: the senior managers in the schools, the social services and the police.

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Gendering Abu Ghraib

abu-ghraibNancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale argue that to understand ISIS, you have to understand Abu Ghraib. And if you want to understand Abu Ghraib, you have to look through the lens of gender.

In the spring of 2004, a few dozen photos were leaked to the media showing American soldiers abusing inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. One photo, of a hooded man, has become iconic. All the photos were shocking, and there was an outcry. Eight American prison guards were court martialled for mistreating prisoners. The highest ranking defendant was a corporal. Three of them were women. Seven of the eight were sentenced to prison. No officer, no sergeant, no interrogator, and no CIA agent was punished.


The sociologist Ryan Ashley Caldwell worked as a research assistant to an expert witness for the defense at the court martial of Sabrina Harman. Caldwell’s Fallgirls: Gender and the Framing of Torture at Abu Ghraib is a harrowing and important book.[1] Caldwell takes much the same approach to gender that we have on this blog. She does not start by looking at women, or men, or LGBT people. Instead, Caldwell looks at gender as an aspect of all social relations. She asks question after question about knitting, makeup, tattoos, lovers, homosexuality, underwear, women prisoners, toilets, women officers, masturbation, skin, writing, phone calls, who holds the leash, who takes the pictures and who becomes the scapegoat.

The answers to her questions about gender tell us much we could find out in no other way. They shine light into hidden horror. They tell us something important about the US military, and something important about ISIS. Continue reading

Creative Protests

penn state mattress

Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale direct your attention to some striking protests against sexual violence by students in the United States, India and Britain.

Over the last couple of years there have been many high profile protests against rape at universities in different countries. They show how it is possible, with very modest means, to mount actions that are effective, and enormously moving for the participants. Continue reading