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Anita Hill: Kavanaugh confirmation hearing 'disservice to the American public'

The Guardian logo The Guardian 4 days ago Amanda Holpuch in Philadelphia

Anita Hill — shown in Laguna Niguel, California, on October 2, 2018 — spoke at the University of Pennsylvania on October 10, the day before the 27th anniversary of her sexual harassment claims against Clarence Thomas. © Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Fortune Anita Hill — shown in Laguna Niguel, California, on October 2, 2018 — spoke at the University of Pennsylvania on October 10, the day before the 27th anniversary of her sexual harassment claims against Clarence Thomas. Anita Hill said Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing was a “disservice to the American public,” in her first public remarks since he was confirmed to the Supreme Court after one of the most narrowly won confirmation proceedings in history.

Hill said the Senate judiciary committee’s response to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh mirrored her own experience testifying against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991.

“What happened was not only a disservice to the people who were the principal witnesses, but was a disservice to the American public,” Hill said at a University of Pennsylvania event on Wednesday night. “We were all disserved in 1991 — people wanted to understand sexual harassment. In 2018, they wanted to understand sexual assault.”

Thursday marks the 27th anniversary of Hill’s testimony that Thomas had sexually harassed her when they worked together at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The Senate confirmed Thomas, who denied the allegations, four days later.

Hill said it was “a tragedy” that once again, the judiciary committee rushed through its response to the respective allegations, did not interview all the witnesses and in the case of Ford, ignored 30 additional years of research into sexual misconduct.

Related: Brett Kavanaugh's ugly confirmation fight may reverberate for years inside Supreme Court

“Those were all the things that I experienced in 1991 and it was what I experienced in 2018 — that failure to really help the public understand very significant issues and to understand that those issues, and seeking truth in those issues, aligned with the interest of having a Supreme Court that people have confidence in, they have faith in, they believe in the impartiality of and they believe in the integrity of,” Hill said.

Hill, a professor of social policy, law, and women’s studies at Brandeis University, entered Penn’s Irvine auditorium to immediate, resounding applause and a standing ovation from the packed, mostly female audience of 1,200.

She spoke with Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and Columbia law School, and an adviser to Hill’s legal team in 1991. Their conversation was moderated by Dorothy Roberts, a sociology and law professor at Penn.

They were clear about what needed to change to stop this from happening again: a shock to the systems that make, and occasionally reward, sexual harassment. That included the government, the criminal justice system, the legal system and the media.

“Christine Blasey Ford had no support. None,” Hill said. “There was no organization that was on the inside or was connected with the inside, with the decision-makers, that was going to be able to help her. We need to really understand that what we are dealing with, when we talk about these kind of abuses … we are not just dealing with behavior, we are dealing with systems that protect it, and sometimes encourage it, and sometimes reward it, and that is what you saw.”

Despite all this, Hill emphasized, there had been improvements in the past three decades.

That included the substantial research into sexual harassment and assault, as well as the people who had shared their stories and the legislation put in place to improve harassment reporting structures and protections.

Related: ‘Vile hatred, hero worship': Christine Blasey Ford faces an unsettling future

Hill said another sign of progress was how senators were reluctant to condemn Ford in public, in contrast with the parade of senators and government officials who insulted Hill in front of any television camera they could in 1991.

Hill said she still looked back and laughed when Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah who is still on the judiciary committee, claimed she had plagiarized her testimony from the film "The Exorcist." “What Orrin Hatch was saying was that women who bring these claims are possessed, they are demonic, they are evil,” Hill said.

She celebrated the change with a note of caution: “The deception of a pretext of fairness is almost as damning.”

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