Sexual harassment is radically bound to power and domination, pleasure and pain, culture and normative vacuums. Lin Farley coined the term in 1975 while teaching a course about women and work at Cornell Law School.

In the past, fear, hypocrisy and retaliation caused sexual harassment to remain mummed, hidden and secret. Today’s social media has opened a Pandora’s box; and the sins of the past are punished in the present.


Larry Nassar, a former USA gymnastics national team osteopathic physician was recently convicted in Ingham County Circuit Court for his serial sexual predation. He pleaded guilty to various counts of criminal sexual conduct charges.

What began as an indictment for the sexual assault of a child in November 2016 later exposed his predilection for child pornography and spurred numerous women to offer up their own stories of sexual assault.

Among the victims were some former USA gymnastics Olympic medallists. They revealed that he had molested them under the pretense of treating them. Considering that they were too young to understand what the doctor was doing, they only later learnt that they had been victims of sexual molestation.

Rachael Denhollander delivered the last victim impact statement. For a great part of it, she focused on the relationship between Nassar and herself. The dynamic involved power.

She was keen to note that Nassar was a powerful individual at Michigan State University (MSU). His elevated status almost completely shielded him from any reproach.


Individually, they were simply just girls, some of them too young to comprehend the magnitude of the wrongs done to them. Individually, they were fatally disempowered against him.

Their only choice was collective action. It also did not help that the systems in place at MSU afforded Nassar protection, despite many being aware of his vile tendencies.

The victims came together and pushed for an institutional investigation into the enabling factors that had sacrificed so many of them at the altar of sexual depredation at MSU.

More than 150 women had made similar statements during Nassar’s weeklong sentencing hearing. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, at the end of the hearing, handed Nasser a prison sentence that will see him die in jail.

Nassar’s ordeal reveals an important synergy between law and power. How do law and power interact? Does the existence of one negate the existence and operation of the other? Does law constrain or enable power?


Nassar’s case went beyond sexual harassment. The doctor’s depraved behaviour degenerated into rape and outright paedophilia. While he had the advantage of power, his victims had innocence and ignorance.

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