If the Senate committee chaired by Joe Biden had taken sexual harassment seriously during Anita Hill’s testimony against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, political leaders could’ve started a crucial conversation around sexual-violence epidemic decades ago, Hill writes in a New York Times op-ed. Because they did not, though, a necessary reckoning still must come — and Hill demands that leaders start it now.
In her Times op-ed, published Thursday evening, Hill celebrates how much the discourse around sexual misconduct has evolved since Biden mishandled her testimony against Thomas. But, she writes, it could’ve come sooner had he done more to protect her in 1991; instead, he allowed Thomas’s defenders to launch vitriolic attacks on Hill’s character and barred numerous witnesses who could’ve corroborated her allegations from testifying.
“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 writes. “If the government had shown that it would treat survivors with dignity and listen to women, it could have had a ripple effect.”
Instead, Hill writes, survivors have felt pressure to keep their stories to themselves, and the epidemic of sexual violence in the U.S. has continued to quietly rage on for nearly three decades. She notes that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a third of women and a quarter of men will experience physical sexual violence in their life; she also points out that judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court last year despite being credibly accused of sexually assault by multiple women, in a hearing that grimly mirrored her own. (“The process appeared to be concerned with political expediency more than truth,” she writes.)
And yet, Hill remains hopeful that change can come after all these years, and that political leaders can help usher it in. And she has some suggestions of where they can start: by confronting the pervasiveness of sexual violence in the military, instituting a process to review sexual-misconduct allegations against presidential candidates, and passing the Be Heard Act, which would extend federal protections against sexual misconduct and discrimination to non-salaried workers.
“Sexual violence is a national crisis that requires a national solution,” she writes. “We miss that point if we end the discussion at whether I should forgive Mr. Biden.”