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Anita Hill: #MeToo could have started in 1991. Here’s why it didn’t.

She said Joe Biden’s judiciary committee failed to recognize the seriousness of sexual violence.

Anita Hill speaks at the Texas Conference For Women 2017 on November 2, 2017.
Marla Aufmuth/Getty Images for Texas Conference for Women

Anita Hill has a stark assessment of her accusations of sexual harassment against Clarence Thomas in 1991: If Joe Biden had taken her seriously, the #MeToo movement might have started years earlier.

In a New York Times op-ed on Thursday, Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment during his Supreme Court nomination process, wrote that the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Biden chaired, did not understand the seriousness of sexual violence. If the government had taken a stance during Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, she wrote, it would have had a “ripple effect,” empowering survivors to speak up.

“Instead, far too many survivors kept their stories hidden for years,” Hill, now a law professor at Brandeis University, wrote.

Conversation about Joe Biden’s handling of the Anita Hill hearing resurfaced as it became clear he was going to announce his presidential bid. Activists condemned Biden for not stepping up as chair of the committee when Republican senators relentlessly attacked Hill and for not calling more witnesses who could corroborate Hill’s accounts. The scrutiny was compounded by reports that women had accused Biden of making them feel uncomfortable by failing to respect their personal space, which led to Biden apologizing on camera.

After officially entering the race, the former vice president called Anita Hill and expressing “regret” at how she was treated but was criticized for failing to fully apologize. After that criticism, he appeared on Good Morning America in April to say, “She did not get a fair hearing. She did not get treated well. That’s my responsibility. As the committee chairman, I take responsibility that she did not get treated well.”

Hill, however, said the focus should not be on whether or not she forgives Biden.

Rather, people should be concerned about the pervasiveness of sexual assault and the lack of government action against it, she said, the most recent example being Christine Blasey Ford’s “courageous testimony” during the hearing of then-Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The hearing showed that even after 26 years, politics still trumped taking victims of sexual assault and harassment seriously, she said.

Hill also called for policy changes, including setting up investigations by an independent party when complaints are raised against potential appointees and passing the Be Heard Act, which aims to address and prevent workplace harassment.

“This crisis calls for all leaders to step up and say: ‘The healing from sexual violence must begin now.’ I will take up that challenge,” she said.