Law professor Anita Hill took to the pages of the New York Times on Thursday to rue America’s missed opportunity to effectively address sexual harassment and violence in 1991 during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, presided over by then-Sen. Joe Biden.
It’s an opportunity that remains missed to this day, she wrote.
The editorial was a slam at the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate but also at the failure of the government then — and repeated like a bad dream last year at another confirmation hearing — to recognize the significance of sexual misconduct, she noted.
“If the Senate Judiciary Committee, led then by Mr. Biden, had done its job and held a hearing that showed that its members understood the seriousness of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence, the cultural shift we saw in 2017 after #MeToo might have began in 1991 — with the support of the government,” she wrote.
“Instead, far too many survivors kept their stories hidden for years,” she said.
Last year, as professor Christine Blasey Ford accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, the process again “appeared to be concerned with political expediency more than with the truth,” Hill said.
After Ford’s “courageous testimony, many saw the callous and ham-handed approach” of Senate committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) as a “replay of the Thomas hearings,” Hill wrote.
“Even worse,” she noted, “a new generation was forced to conclude that politics trumped a basic and essential expectation: that claims of sexual abuse would be taken seriously.”
The problem of sexual harassment and assault remains massive to this day, she warned, pointing out that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experiences sexual violence during their lifetimes, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Claims of sexual harassment increased by more than 12% from fiscal year 2017 to 2018, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Hill noted.
Despite the bleak statistics, Hill said, she remains “hopeful.” She called for acknowledgment of the suffering of victims and an established process to address the problem.
She called on Senate leaders to adopt a “fair and transparent process” for responding to complaints about prospective presidential appointees. She urged Congress to pass bills like the Be Heard Act, which would extend federal protections against sexual harassment and discrimination to all workers.
Hill has said she’s not content with Biden’s words of contrition about the Thomas hearings as he launched his presidential bid. He has been criticized for mishandling how Hill’s testimony was presented before the Supreme Court confirmation of Thomas, who denied all of her allegations.
“I cannot be satisfied by [Biden] simply saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you,’” Hill told the Times last month. “I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose.”
She repeated that sentiment in her opinion piece Thursday.
Sexual violence is a “national crisis that requires a national solution,” Hill wrote. “We miss that point if we end the discussion at whether I should forgive Mr. Biden. This crisis calls for all leaders to step up and say: ‘The healing from sexual violence must begin now. I will take up that challenge.’”