The Anita Hill Story & More About Sexual Harassment
After Anita Hill: Sexual harassment in the public eye
As the documentary“Anita: Speaking Truth to Power” opened this April across the country, it reminds the nation of that transformative moment in American social history and the legacy of Anita Hill’s explosive testimony about Clarence Thomas in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in October 1991.
Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Freida Mock, “Anita" is the story of law professor Anita Hill and how she unexpectedly became a celebrity and a role model in 1991 by summoning the courage to testify about how Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, sexually harassed her when he was her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The documentary revisits that tumultuous time and its significance and follows Hill's life to the present time, 22 years later, when she is now a senior adviser to the Provost at Brandeis University and a professor of social policy, law and women's studies at the Brandeis Heller School for Social Policy and Management.
Very few people realize how much change cascaded from Hill’s testimony—or how fully her testimony has since been substantiated. Let’s review.
In 1991, after President George H.W. Bush nominated Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, Hill submitted a confidential memo to let the committee know Thomas had harassed her while she was under his employ. A few female members of Congress pressured the Judiciary Committee to call Hill to testify. When she did, Hill patiently explained that in 1981, when she was a 25-year-old lawyer working for the EEOC, Thomas had talked to her graphically about sex. She said he gave lurid details about the pornography he watched; he discussed his sexual prowess; he pressured her to date him.
Thomas vociferously denied all the allegations and angrily told the senators that he was the victim of a televised “high-tech lynching” because he was “an uppity black.” Although Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court by a vote of 52-48, Hill’s astonishing testimony has shaped today’s workplace—and much has since been vindicated by independent evidence.
Hill’s testimony about Thomas brought national attention to this new concept, “sexual harassment,” which had only been declared illegal in 1986 by the Supreme Court in its decision in Meritor Savings Bank v. Mechelle Vinson.
Reporting by the Schuster Institute
Sexual harassment: A contentious topic
Since then, many reporters, including the leadership and staff at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism, have reported on associated issues that hold powerful men and ordinary working people accountable either for sexual harassment, or for levying sexual harassment allegations for personal gain.
Below are links to Schuster Institute reporting into these contentious topics.
What they didn’t tell you about Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas
In The Washington Post, investigative journalist and Institute founding director Florence George Graves revealed for the first time the intricate—and bipartisan—behind-the-scenes maneuvering by several Senate Judiciary Committee members to discourage the testimony of Angela Wright, a woman whose information could have helped corroborate Hill's allegations against Thomas.
- "The Other Woman," The Washington Post, October 9, 1994; 8MB PDF. Received Texas Institute of Letters Award, best newspaper article published in 1994
- "'The Other Woman' — Senator Simpson Responds," 1/21/1995
- "'The Other Woman' — Florence Graves Responds to Sen. Simpson," 1/28/1995
Were other powerful men in Washington, D.C. getting away with sexual harassment?
After Hill’s testimony, Graves waited for the obvious follow-up story to "The Other Woman": an investigation into others who were abusing powerful positions with sexual misconduct. When none appeared, she did the research herself, and brought her story to The Washington Post.
Her investigation of Sen. Bob Packwood revealed his sexual misconduct and abuse of power against women in his employ, leading to a Senate Ethics Committee investigation and his forced resignation.
- "Packwood Accused of Sexual Advances," The Washington Post, November 22, 1992; 6.7MB PDF
- "The Packwood Resignation," New York Times, 9/8/1999
Did Kathleen Willey falsely accuse Pres. Clinton of sexual harassment? Did special prosecutor Kenneth Starr know she had a history of lying?
During much of his second term in office, President Bill Clinton was tied up with extensive investigations that included allegations that he had repeatedly sexually harassed women. After Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr issued the voluminous Starr Report, the U.S. House of Representatives impeached Clinton. The Senate acquitted.
One sexual harassment accuser (and key prospective witness for impeachment) was Kathleen Willey. In a year-long investigation for the Nation magazine, Graves revealed that Willey was in fact seeking an affair with the president, and that Starr knew Willey had lied to his investigators—but tried to keep her perjury secret.
- "Starr and Willey: The Untold Story," The Nation, May 17, 1999
- Graves “helped hand Starr his hat on the only indictment in the Lewinsky matter.”
- "Graves Digs Deep: Tenacious Yet Genteel, the Needham-Based Journalist Takes on DC's Elite," Alison Bass, The Boston Globe, 7/21/1999
- The March 2002 final report of the Independent Counsel (written after Starr resigned) confirmed that prosecutors knew Willey’s credibility was questionable.
What effect did Anita Hill’s testimony have? And how did she fare after being so roundly attacked?
Eleven years after the hearings, Graves extensively interviewed Hill for this in-depth profile, which included a summary of how much social, legal, and political change had been set off by her 1991 Senate committee testimony.
- "Anita Hill: The Rest of the Story," Boston Globe Magazine, January 19, 2003; (12MB)
Is sexual harassment “private” behavior? Or publicly relevant abuse of power?
Graves has several times responded to criticisms that the Hill testimony, the Sen. Packwood investigation, and other such stories were about “private life” and shouldn’t be covered in the news media. Independently and prior to her employ at the Schuster Institute, Senior Consulting Editor E.J. Graff wrote a very similar article for the Columbia Journalism Review.
- "Going Public About Packwood: Why His Abuses Were a Fair Pursuit for the Press," The Washington Post Outlook section, September 10, 1995
- "Redefining the 'Private Lives' of Public Officials," Nieman Reports, Spring 2002
- “The Line on Sex,” Columbia Journalism Review, September/October 2005
How bad is the problem of sexual harassment?
Graff helped investigate and write about the breadth of sexual harassment in the workplace when she collaborated on Lt. Governor Evelyn Murphy’s 2005 book Getting Even: Why Women Still Don't Get Paid Like Men—and What To Do So We Will.
Graff’s follow-up articles and investigations included:
- Too Pretty a Picture, The Washington Post, November 13, 2005. This reported commentary discussed how horrific, sometimes life-endangering sexual harassment is used to keep women out of “men’s work” that would increase their income.
Sexual harassment of teenage workers
In the 21st century’s first decade, regional attorneys at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) started seeing a sharp increase in the number and severity of sexual harassment complaints from teenage workers on their after-school, weekend, and summer jobs. Graff’s investigation revealed that, if academic estimates are correct, more than 200,000 teenagers a year are being sexually assaulted by coworkers, supervisors, and managers.
- “Is Your Daughter Safe at Work?” Good Housekeeping, June 2008
- “Is Your Daughter Safe at Work?”, NOW on PBS February 20, 2009. This collaboration with broadcast journalist Maria Hinojosa was based on Graff’s reporting and featured an interview with her as an expert source.
The Schuster Institute created a microsite that offers a map of teen sexual harassment lawsuits, along with more information and background on this problem:
Last update: April 4, 2014