The ‘Last Week Tonight’ interview comes 27 years after Hill’s watershed Senate testimony, in which she accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.
There’s been “a tremendous amount of change” in sexual harassment awareness, particularly from the #MeToo movement, says the woman whose monumental Senate testimony pushed the issue into the national dialogue — but society still has plenty of work to do.
“I’m feeling more optimistic than I was 27 years ago … That’s a very low bar,” 62-year-old Anita Hill, now a professor at Brandeis University, told John Oliver in an interview for Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight.” “But even then I was somewhat optimistic, because I have seen people step up. I’ve heard from women whose lives have been changed because things happened differently when they went forward with their complaint than they would’ve expected it to happen years before.”
“If we do nothing,” she added, “the change is not going to come.”
And it shouldn’t be on women to fix the scourge of sexual misconduct, said Hill, who accused her former boss and then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his 1991 confirmation hearing. (Though Thomas was ultimately confirmed, the volume of sexual harassment complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reportedly more than doubled in the ensuing five years.)
“So far much of the approaches we’ve had is to put all of the burden on women,” Hill said. “One of the questions that I got that sort of sticks out with me is, ‘How do we raise our daughter to make sure that she doesn’t set herself up to be a victim of sexual harassment?’ These are the kinds of things that we’re thinking: that if we fix her, then she won’t encounter this problem. And in reality, she is not the problem.”
Men need to “step up,” Hill said, “and realize at this point in time, there are no innocent bystanders.” “If you are aware of something, you acknowledge it, you know it’s wrong, but you don’t do anything about it, then it’s the same as participating in it,” she added.
Eighty-one percent of women and 43% of men say they’ve experienced some form of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault over the course of their lives, according to a nationally representative survey released in February by the nonprofit Stop Street Harassment. And an outpouring of allegations spurred by the #MeToo reckoning has seen at least 414 prominent executives and employees implicated over the past year and a half, according to data published in late June — with women making up just seven of the accused.
“One of the things that we need to do to change the culture and actually convince people that we’re serious about it is to publicize the policies — and to inform people, ‘This is what happens if you file a complaint, here are the things that you will do, here are the questions that you will face, here is the process,’” Hill said. On the management end, she added, there’s bystander training.
Part of the change lies in the law around discrimination, she added, which often “relies on intent” rather than addressing the resulting repercussions. “If you’re a victim, it doesn’t matter so much whether they intend it,” she said.
Asked by Oliver whether men who are “absolutely terrified to be alone with a woman now” should be scared, Hill replied, “Not if they’re not harassers.”
“The whole idea of false claims is something that is another one of those roadblocks that people throw up. Well, that really hasn’t manifested itself,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that it never happens, but they’re so rare that it seems to me that we don’t need to make rules around the things that rarely happen until we finish up making the rules around things that are happening regularly.”
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