When Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings in 1991, she made America more aware of sexual harassment as an issue and inspired many other women to come forward about their own experiences with harassment.
Hill was Thomas’s most prominent accuser, but she wasn’t the only one. And now, 25 years after the Anita Hill hearings, another woman has come forward to accuse Thomas of sexual misconduct.
Moira Smith, a 41-year-old lawyer in Alaska, first posted about her experience on Facebook on October 7 of this year, Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal and Law.com reported. That was the same night an infamous tape surfaced featuring Donald Trump bragging about sexual assault was made public by the Washington Post.
Smith told Coyle that in 1999, when she was a young Truman Foundation scholar, Thomas groped her at an awards dinner party:
Alone with Thomas, “I was setting the place to his right when he reached out, sort of cupped his hand around my butt and pulled me pretty close to him,” Smith said in an interview. “He said, ‘Where are you sitting?’ and gave me a squeeze. I said, ‘I’m sitting down at the garden table.’ He said, ‘I think you should sit next to me,’ giving me squeezes. I said, ‘Well, Mr. Blair is pretty particular about his seating chart.’ I tried to use the seating chart as a pretext for refusing. He one more time squeezed my butt and he said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said yes, and that was the end of it.”
Smith said that she definitely didn’t misconstrue Thomas’s advances. “You know when somebody puts an arm around your waist, it would have been overly familiar, but wouldn’t have crossed any boundaries,” she said. “Instead, he was 5 or 6 inches down and he got a good handful and he kept squeezing me and pulling me close to him ... it felt somewhat menacing and I felt vulnerable.”
The National Law Journal confirmed Smith’s account with three former housemates, who say they heard the story from Smith in the spring and summer of 1999.
“This claim is preposterous and it never happened,” Thomas told the publication through a spokesperson.
In Smith’s Facebook post (she has since deactivated her account), she talked about her experience with Thomas, as well as two other unrelated incidents — a date rape and a groping from an acquaintance at a bar.
Smith said she made her post after seeing a meme on Facebook that made her “furious”: a picture of a laughing Hillary Clinton with the caption, “As if those tiny hands could grab ahold of pussy.”
“We took something serious and just normalized it by laughing at it,” Smith said. “Donald Trump said when you’re a star, they let you do it; you can do anything. The idea that we as victims let them do it made me mad.”
“Sure enough, Justice Thomas did it with I think an implicit pact of silence that I would be so flattered and star-struck and surprised that I wouldn’t say anything. I played the chump,” Smith said. “I didn’t say anything.”
But Smith’s original Facebook post said she wasn’t coming forward about this because of the election, “or even really because of Donald Trump.” It was because, she said, “if this can happen to me — a privileged white woman — three times in 10 years, how bad must it be for those who are not as privileged? Enough is enough.”
The mounting allegations of sexual assault against Trump have sparked a national conversation about sexual assault, and inspired an outpouring of stories from victims of assault who had stayed silent for years.
Smith’s story is one more example of how victims of harassment or assault — especially at the hands of a powerful man — might stay silent for years, until a major turn of events inspires them to break that silence.