The Anita Hill Story & More About Sexual Harassment

Anita Hill: Speaking Truth to Power

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.

 

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.


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.


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.

 

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.


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.

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