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When it comes to her 1991 testimony that Clarence Thomas repeatedly sexually harassed her and the fact he was nonetheless confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, Anita Hill believes the Senate Judiciary Committee “failed,” but with President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, she believes they have an opportunity to do better.
In an op-ed for The New York Times published on Tuesday, Hill, who is now a Brandeis professor and whose story was the subject of a 2016 HBO film starring Kerry Washington, writes, “There is no way to redo 1991, but there are ways to do better.”
Hill’s op-ed comes after Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at California’s Palo Alto University, stepped forward publicly with her allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. Ford had reportedly claimed that during an encounter at a party in the 1980s, Kavanaugh held her down and attempted to force himself on her.
Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.
“It’s impossible to miss the parallels between the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing of 2018 and the 1991 confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas,” Hill writes. “In 1991, the Senate Judiciary Committee had an opportunity to demonstrate its appreciation for both the seriousness of sexual harassment claims and the need for public confidence in the character of a nominee to the Supreme Court.”
“It failed on both counts,” she says.
And although Hill points out that the committee still has several of the same members and still “lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing,” she asserts that the committee must nonetheless serve as “fact-finders.”
In order to do this, Hill had several recommendations, including:
“Refrain from pitting the public interest in confronting sexual harassment against the need for a fair confirmation hearing”; “Select a neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases that will investigate the incident in question and present its findings to the committee”; “The investigators’ report should frame the hearing, not politics or myths about sexual assault”; “Do not rush these hearings”; and “refer to Christine Blasey Ford by her name. She was once anonymous, but no longer is. Dr. Blasey is not simply ‘Judge Kavanaugh’s accuser.’ Dr. Blasey is a human being with a life of her own. She deserves the respect of being addressed and treated as a whole person.”
She concludes by noting that in the 1990s it was common for people to claim senators “just don’t get it” when it comes to sexual violence. “With years of hindsight, mounds of evidence of the prevalence and harm that sexual violence causes individuals and our institutions, as well as a Senate with more women than ever, ‘not getting it’ isn’t an option for our elected representatives,” she writes. “In 2018, our senators must get it right.”
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