Anita Hill in Austin: ‘We are ready to end sexual harassment’

4:36 p.m Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 Local
Anita Hill speaks at the Texas Conference for Women at the Austin Convention Center on Thursday. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Lawyer, civil rights advocate and educator Anita Hill, who raised sexual harassment claims against a Supreme Court nominee more than two decades ago, asked attendees at the Texas Conference for Women on Thursday to share their own stories.

After a recent wave of women have come forward to denounce sexual harassment and assault in Hollywood, Hill said in her keynote speech at the Austin Convention Center that “we knew somewhere in our hearts that this day would come.”

Hill, who teaches social policy, law and women’s studies at Brandeis University, issued a call to action, asking business leaders who have clout in their jobs to use it to create a safe system for victims, and she chastised workplaces that offered millions in severance pay to abusers. Hill also encouraged women to call, write or email lawmakers to move on laws to protect women and men in the armed forces from sexual assault.

“The energy and even anger of this moment says we are ready to end sexual harassment,” she said. “We are ready to take on the deniers and enablers and ready to share our truth.”

In 1991, Hill famously testified that then-Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her and was unfit for confirmation. Thomas was confirmed, and Hill’s character was attacked, and she credits her family for carrying her “through the darkest days.” Thomas denied the allegations, calling the controversy “a national disgrace,” and critics attacked Hill’s character. Thomas was confirmed by the Senate.

Hill credits her family for carrying her “through the darkest days.”

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, about 75 percent of employees who speak out against workplace mistreatment face some form of retaliation. “I’ve been a victim,” Hill said Thursday. “It’s not a sought-after position.”

It should not take scores of women coming forward, Hill said, to believe one woman. “Our word is as trustworthy as our abusers,” she said.

Hill thanked the women who stepped forward during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s for “bringing us where we are today” despite the lack of hashtags or social media then available to raise awareness about sexual harassment.

Now, Hill encourages women to not only speak out in the workplace about sexual harassment but other discrimination, such as being denied promotions or receiving biased performance reviews.

“Women deserve to be valued and respected in our workplaces, schools and our streets,” she said.

The annual women’s conference, which attracts about 7,500 attendees, also featured speakers such as award-winning actress Viola Davis and Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg.

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