Trump’s character is under more intense scrutiny than usual after several women have come forward with allegations that he sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them, and after footage surfaced of Trump bragging about such actions on a hot mic in 2005.
In fact, a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed 38 percent of voters find his statements disqualifying for the presidency.
But on Tuesday, Anita Hill, a professor of social policy, law, and women's, gender and sexuality studies at Brandeis University and women’s advocate, wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe pointing out a glaring omission in the conversation: concern for the women who report being subjected to Trump’s unwanted advances.
“We must understand the harm that sexual harassment and sexual violence causes,” Hill wrote. “Missing from the conversation this weekend, which focused almost exclusively on the character of the offender, was concern about the victims of sexual violence. At virtually every dinner table this weekend, people talked about what should happen to Donald Trump’s political ambitions. But little consideration was given to what impact the brutish behavior he claimed to have had on the women he victimized.”
Hill serves as both an advocate and as a reminder of what America has yet to learn about sexual harassment. Twenty-five years ago, Hill was tasked with testifying to the US Senate about accusations of sexual harassment by former boss Clarence Thomas, during his contentious three-day confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court.
On October 11, 1991, Hill stood before an all-white, male Senate Judiciary Committee and testified that Thomas made lewd, unwanted sexual advances toward her as her boss at the Department of Education and later the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Throughout the hearing, committee members were hostile to Hill, and showed little understanding of sexual harassment. Senators asked Hill to repeatedly recount sexually explicit details of her allegations — from Thomas allegedly calling his penis "Long Dong Silver" to announcing in a work setting that he'd found a pubic hair on a Coke can. They also criticized her "lateness" in bringing forth the allegations.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) flat-out refuted Hill's statements by saying Thomas "denied ever having asked her out or talked to her about anything like that."
The cards were stacked against Hill. The burden of proof wasn’t on Thomas to prove his innocence. Instead, Hill had to prove she had the right to be believed. And after three days of "he said, she said," the Senate voted 52 to 48 to confirm Thomas to the Supreme Court on October 15, 1991, the narrowest margin in a century.
Hill faced public backlash, threats of death and sexual violence, and a campaign to remove her from her job as a law professor at the University of Oklahoma after the hearing. But Hill’s courage to reveal a secret many women felt pressured to bear privately is a major reason why women, like Trump’s accusers, can come forward.
Hill made the nation listen. And decades later, a new generation of women can at least believe there is space for them to be heard.
But when violence against women, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, persists, and allegations of sexual misconduct still have yet to disqualify reported perpetrators from seeking the most powerful positions the US government has to offer, Hill makes the case that is up to Americans to figure out why victims still can’t trust they’ll be taken seriously.
As Hill wrote in the Globe, “What I learned in 1991 is no less true today and no less important for people to understand: responses to sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence must start with a belief that women matter as much as the powerful men they encounter at work or at school, whether those men are bosses or professors, colleagues or fellow students.”