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Anita Hill wants Joe Biden to prove he understands the violence women face

“I really want our leaders to stand up and say what happened in 1991 will never happen again.”

Law Professor Anita Hill Addresses Wesleyan Commencement Ceremony
Law professor Anita Hill attends the commencement ceremony at Wesleyan University on May 27, 2018, in Middletown, Connecticut.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Anita Hill would consider voting for Joe Biden if he’s the Democratic nominee, despite how he handled her testimony during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings nearly three decades ago, she said in an interview with NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell that aired Thursday. He — along with the rest of the 2020 field — will have to demonstrate that they truly understand how violence has affected women’s lives, she said.

“I don’t think it has disqualified him,” Hill said when asked how Biden’s role in the Thomas hearings had impacted his candidacy. “He’s perfectly capable of running for president. I think we will have to make our decisions about what we want our leaders to be doing in the future around these issues of gender violence.”

In 1991, Hill accused Thomas, who was nominated for the Supreme Court, of sexual harassment. Thomas denied her claims. Biden, who was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was criticized for not shielding Hill from attacks by other members of the committee and failing to call additional witnesses that could have bolstered her case.

Hill had previously said she wasn’t satisfied with Biden calling her earlier this year to express his “regret” for his role in the 1991 hearings. During the Thursday interview, she argued that she’d like to see his plans for addressing the harassment and inequities that women continue to face.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of what he could say. For me it’s a matter of what we want all of our leaders to say; that is, after almost three decades now of having discovered the problem of sexual harassment, more people understanding it is a serious problem and so prevalent,” she said. “I really want our leaders to stand up and say what happened in 1991 will never happen again.”

Hill, who had previously worked with Thomas at two government agencies, is now a law professor at Brandeis University and has dedicated much of her career to addressing harassment and sexism across different industries. She currently heads a commission tackling sexual abuse and harassment in Hollywood.

Hill argued that she wants lawmakers to recognize the pervasive nature of the mistreatment women face and to use “government resources” to tackle it. “I want our leaders to stand up and say ‘I understand this is a serious problem, that women are not safe in the workplace, they’re not safe in our schools, they’re not safe on our streets,’” she said.

Hill also said she’d like to see a question about gender violence front and center at the upcoming Democratic debates, forcing candidates to grapple with this issue directly.

Her interview took place as Biden remains under scrutiny for his present-day actions and comments toward women, including jokes about protecting young girls from potential suitors and off-the-cuff comments about women’s looks. Hill’s remarks suggest that Biden still has the potential to secure her support, but he’ll have to put in the work.