Anita Hill Started A Conversation About Sexual Harassment. She’s Not Done Yet

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Anita Hill teaches courses on gender, race, social policy and legal history at Brandeis University.

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Lisa O’Connor /AFP via Getty Images


Book Reviews
‘Believing’ Is A Book Only Anita Hill Could Have Written

At the time of the hearing, Hill felt isolated. But afterward she was flooded with stories of other people who had similar experiences.

«Hearing from them, just realizing that I was not alone in facing this kind of scrutiny and actual hostility, was affirming,» she says.

Hill’s testimony against Thomas — and the process by which nominees to the Supreme Court are vetted — were reexamined in 2018, when Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court despite Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations that he had sexually assaulted her in 1982.


Politics
Kavanaugh Allegations Recall 1991’s Supreme Court Scandal, With Key Differences

Hill’s new book, Believing, draws on her own experiences, as well as the stories shared with her by victims of sexual harassments and assault. She writes about laws related to gender-based violence and suggests how the Supreme Court confirmation process might be changed so that when women like her and Ford come forward, their allegations are fully investigated.

«Thirty years later, I’m here to say that even though Clarence Thomas was confirmed, I do believe that what I did was effective because it opened the conversation publicly in a way that had never been done before,» she says. «I’ve heard from people whose lives have been changed because that conversation was open.»

Interview highlights

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Believing, by Anita Hill

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Hill doesn’t regret testifying against Clarence Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 1991. «I believe there is victory in being able to come forward and state what has happened to you,» she says.

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Jennifer Law/AFP via Getty Images


Politics
Kavanaugh Accuser Christine Blasey Ford Continues Receiving Threats, Lawyers Say

I think what people don’t understand is that there is a before-[the-hearing], during-the-hearing, and after-the-hearing problem. And what I think people assumed in my case, and perhaps in Christine Blasey Ford’s case too, was that we just went home and everything was back to normal and nothing could be further from the truth, for each of us. What we need and what was really lacking was that the senators held this hearing, which put us really at risk of public blowback, but then offered nothing in terms of resources or guidance or statements to the effect that when we step forward, we were doing something that it was that was our right to do, and was, in fact, our civic duty to do to bring evidence to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On what Biden said to her when he called to apologize for the way he treated her during Thomas’ 1991 confirmation hearing

I got my call from Joe Biden as he was poised to announce his candidacy, and what he said was that he was sorry for what had happened to me in 1991. … He also said that, since 1991, he had been involved in efforts to protect women from violence, including the Violence Against Women Act, including action while he was the vice president in the Obama administration around violence on college campuses. There was a campaign that he was in charge of from the White House that engaged college students. Those were things that I was very grateful to hear him talk about.


Politics
Biden Insists He Didn’t Treat Anita Hill ‘Badly,’ When Pressed For Apology On TV

What I didn’t hear [Biden] say was that he clearly understood how his handling of the 1991 hearing had impacted people beyond me.

What I didn’t hear him say was that he clearly understood how his handling of the 1991 hearing had impacted people beyond me. I didn’t hear that in his apology that he understood that the Senate Judiciary Committee’s handling of my complaint in 1991 had been harmful to women throughout this country. He thought the affront was a personal affront to me, but it was really affront to all individuals who have had complaints and want to come forward and want the certainty or some kind of assurance that they can come forward and be treated fairly. It appeared to women as a model of how they could be abused by a system and that nothing would be done about it. It wasn’t just the outcome of a confirmation or a vote, but it was the whole process that people found offensive to their sense of what the government has a responsibility to do to hear victims.

On the work that still needs to be done to prevent sexual harassment and assault in the workplace


The Two-Way
A New Survey Finds 81 Percent Of Women Have Experienced Sexual Harassment

It’s never too early to start on this. When you look at the numbers themselves, just look at the numbers, the prevalence of the problem …. three of the last five U.S. presidents and two sitting Supreme Court justices have been accused of abusive behavior. The fact that we have the problem that is occurring regularly, almost every year, there’s a new scandal in our military, then that the U.S. Civil Rights Commission has done work recently to discover that there is a problem in our federal workforces and that’s just the government alone. Then when you look at the private institutions, we realize that this is a problem that is systemic, that is pervasive, and that we need some leadership to address.

On if the appointments of Justices Thomas and Kavanaugh affected her faith in the courts

My faith in courts is still strong. Courts have an important role. I still think that the [Supreme] Court, though, is weakened when individuals on the Court are weak, and that’s why I think it’s so important for us to get these processes right, so that we can, in fact, get the best, most credible people on the Court. At the very least, we can do that.

Sam Briger and Kayla Lattimore produced and edited the audio of this interview. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Meghan Sullivan adapted it for the web.

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