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Chris Lyttleton, Sexual Abuse and Macquarie University

Note: At NO TIME has anyone from Macquerie University made any reply to my written concerns or questions regarding Mr. Lyttleton.
Chris Lyttleton at Macquarie University

Chris Lyttleton and the Akha

In 2005-2006 the Akha of northern Laos complained that the staff of ACF and NCA (Norwegian Church Aid) were sexually abusing the girls and women in their villages. Many of the girls were under age. This complaint came from the villagers of numerous Akha villages.

NORAD undertook an investigation. Chris Lyttleton was retained and paid to do what was suppose to be an independent investigation. However Chris Lyttleton failed to mention that he already had a working relationship with NCA in the past and should have recused himself.

While the executive summary of the NORAD report tries to say that the allegations were false, in fact the details of the report show that there was sexual contact between staff workers in a position of power, and the girls and women of the Akha villages.

Chris Lyttleton did his best to cover up or gloss over the seriousness of these charges and to shift the blame for the problems onto the girls of the Akha vilalges themselves, saying that due to their culture, this was just business as usual.

We found the content of this report highly offensive in that Chris could never have gotten away with this analysis in the west if he were doing an investigation of similar allegations let us say for example at a girl's boarding school in Australia.

Chris Lyttleton seems to take little care for the women and girls of the Akha villages.

You can see a lengthy number of reports and analysis of Chris Lyttleton's involvement here:

June 2011

But now Chris Lyttleton has come out with another academic "study", crawling into the intimate lives of the Akha as if still not satisfied with portraying them as culturally "loose women", as he broadcasts far and wide his analysis once again of their sexual behaviour as HE sees it of the Akha women of Laos, as if to say one more time, "look how they are".

Chris Lyttleton and Douangphet Sayanouso. 2011. "Cultural Reproduction and "Minority" Sexuality: Intimate Changes among Ethnic Akha in the Upper Mekong", Asian Studies Review, Volume 35, Issue 2, pages 169-188.

No Akha leaders who were consulted regarding this study or the findings or the publishing of such findings. People familiar with the study found serious ethical problems with Chris Lyttleton publishing this material. There are numerous leaders in the Akha community who could have been asked what they thought of the study, how it was organized and if it was appropriate to publish this version of events.

Chris Lyttleton apparently found no need to take care to consult with any of these Ahka people.

We ask that Macquarie University review Chris Lyttleton's status at the University, which very possibly speaks more of them than it does of Chris Lyttleton.

We ask that the report be retracted and that Chris Lyttleton make an apology to the Akha people.

We ask that Chris Lyttleton be cut off from further "research" within the Akha community.

Assoc. Professor Christopher Lyttleton



This is a letter that I sent to the Vice Chancellor's office at Macquarie University in response to Chris Lyttleton saying in his report for NORAD that I didn't know for fact what the Akha tell me.

Dear Elizabeth More:

I am writing to you in regards to one of the professors at your University, a Mr. Chris Lyttleton.

In 2006 Mr. Lyttleton was picked to make an investigation as part of a team with NORAD into allegations that the Akha made that staff from Norwegian Church Aid and Action Contre Le Faim staff in northern Laos were sexually abusing their women and girls in the target villages where these agencies worked.

Over the year of 2005-2006 I did extensive investigations into the conditions in the Akha villages in Luang Namtha province.

In interviews with the Akha in the Muang Long area, I was repeatedly told by villagers in numerous villages that the staff of NCA and ACF were sexually abusing their women and girls, demanding and soliciting sex in the villages. We were given a list of the names of the villages as well as the names of staff members who were chief offenders as well as the names of numerous girls who had been abused, including those who had become pregnant.

Because the allegations were that the ngo staff were having sex with underaged girls, we considered this to be rape, despite what other forms of coercion may have been going on which the Akha stated quite clearly.

However, in the report that Mr. Lyttleton was a part of, he repeated calls into questions my exact translation of those interviews, saying that I have portrayed the issue in this or that light, or that I lack understanding of Akha sexual customs, etc.

Great effort is made to draw out speculation as to Akha tradition and sexual custom in order to make it appear very normal that staff members, can just pop into a village, and climb into bed with girls of their choosing, since the Akha are compulsive hosts to visitors to their village in this fashion. Nothing could be further from the truth. Further, the power relationships all around the Akha, make it impossible for the villagers to make their own villages off limits. There are no Akha advocates working in the region. This is a region where most of the Akha villages have been forced to relocate and leave their goods and livestock behind, and move down into malaria infested lowlands, without even the benefit of mosquito nets, which the NGO's will not give them, in an area famous for cerebral malaria which has a 20% fatality rate under the best of treatments.

As we stated then, these accusations were not scarce. They were very common in every Akha village that we went to which had exposure to these two NGO's.

Our translations were exact and in numerous cases we videotaped the interviews, done directly from Akha into English.

The NORAD report in which Mr. Lyttleton makes these statements can be seen here:

Mr. Lyttleton is calling into questions my integrity as well as my skill in the field in which I work.

In 11 days time he expected to know what I researched over a year.

Mr. Lyttleton does not speak Akha. The discussions were a couple of hours in each village, asking sensitive questions, through one translator into Lao, and one translator from Lao into English.

Yet Mr. Lyttleton dares to publically challenge the integrity of the information we provided.

I speak the Akha language fluently. I have lived with the Akha for 15 years, my wife is Akha, our five children speak Akha as the chosen language of our family, even here in the US. I am an adopted member of the Akha community, meaning that I am adopted in under a clan different from my wife's clan. I am adopted in under the clan of Byauh Leh, as a member of Ah Baw Sah's family, and am required to abide by all Akha laws and customs. I have visited to or worked in 290 of Thailand's 320 Akha villages, and scores of Akha villages in Laos, Myanmar and China since 1991.

I can read and write Akha.

I have worked on a score of films up to and including ones that ran on National Geographic TV.

Yet Mr. Lyttleton takes it upon himself to repeatedly state in the Norad report that while HE DOESN'T speak Akha, I obviously don't know what is going on in the Akha community.

Mr. Lyttleton makes these statements about me, as Head of Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University, Sidney. Team leader, according to the NORAD report. Thus I consider these very serious comments.

He repeatedly makes statements about what I believe or think or understand that are blatantly false.

Yet this is in a report, that tries to blunt allegations that NCA staff were sleeping with underage girls in the Akha villages.

I had offered to be a part of the investigation so that I could take the investigating team to all of the villages that I had been to, as well as make certain of the security of the girls invovled, and identify by name the NCA staff which were being accused.

While my services were refused, the makers of the NORAD report then stated that they could not determine who the NCA staff might have been.

While NORAD stated that they wanted to exclude me because they wanted to keep the report independent, they would not answer why Mr. Lyttleton was chosen, as he had worked for NCA in the past. We asked the Norwegian Minister Valvatne, who had asked for the investigation after we gave him our report at the UN in May 2006 why Mr. Lyttleton did not recuse himself? We got no answer.

At any rate, I would appreciate it if your professor staff did not make statements regarding my fluency in Akha language and culture or my professionalism in making exact translations of what Akha witnesses say.

There are still legal issues involving these sexual offenses, which still must be resolved, considering criminal charges as well as compensation to the girls and women involved. It would be wise on the part of Mr. Lyttleton not to be dismissing a case that has significant legal ramifications for the NGO's invovled, as well as possible criminal charges.

Reviews of the NORAD report point out the obvious bias and attempt on the part of NORAD to clear NCA of the allegations that their staff "raped" underage girls rather than just had sex with them (statuatory).

It is shameful that any man, especially at the university level, would put his name to a report that clearly indicates that an NGO was taking great sexual liberties with underage village girls in the very villages they were suppose to be trying to help, and say that they really aren't guilty of anything, and that the allegations are groundless. (we and the Akha must have made it all up or just don't understand Akha culture)

The issue will come up again at the UN in New York this spring, as well as Mr. Lyttleton's role in it.

We are also currently publishing a book on the issue, with quotes from Mr. Lyttleton and mention of his place of employment.

I would ask that your office look into how this report was conducted, and how reports done in this fashion cover up exploitation, rather than protect the rights of indigenous girls and women.

The links below list reviews of Mr. Chris Lyttleton's report. They explicitly say, that the allegations that the Akha made, which I and another man documented, are not to be dismissed. They also explicitly say that Mr. Lyttleton contradicts a previous report he made that stated that sexual abuse of Akha girls in villages was widespread in the region, so much so that villages were turned into open brothels.

Matthew McDaniel
The Akha Heritage Foundation

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