Anita Hill On Sexual Harassment In Hollywood And Beyond | KBIA

Anita Hill On Sexual Harassment In Hollywood And Beyond

Sep 29, 2020
Originally published on September 29, 2020 6:51 pm

In the three years since the Harvey Weinstein story broke and the #MeToo movement took off, a new report finds that people working in Hollywood and the entertainment business say not enough has changed.

The Hollywood Commission, a nonprofit that works to eradicate harassment and discrimination, surveyed nearly 10,000 people in the entertainment industry nationwide. It found many are staying silent because they fear retaliation, or they don't believe people in positions of power will be held to account.

Anita Hill, chair of the commission, has personal experience fighting to have allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace taken seriously. In 1991, she testified under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee — led by Sen. Joe Biden — that now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her while he was her boss.

Hill tells All Things Considered the standout data from the newly released Hollywood Survey was on accountability: 64% of people surveyed said they did not think a person who was found to have harassed a subordinate would be held accountable.

In the three years that #MeToo has been in the spotlight, there have been numerous high-profile cases of powerful men losing their jobs because of their abusive, harassing or bullying behavior, but Hill says it's not enough.

"What we want to make sure is that it doesn't stop with just a few high-profile cases," she says. "We know that there are problems throughout workplaces, and we want to make sure that everybody, whatever their position is, can count on being heard."

Hill, who is a professor at Brandeis University, also talks about the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and her endorsement of Biden, who she has criticized in the past for his role in the 1991 hearings.

The interview highlights contain some extra content that did not air in the broadcast version.


Interview Highlights

On the challenges of coming forward with allegations of abuse

There are personal costs. But even when people are willing to take the risk, there are other things that they're considering. People don't come forward because they think they won't be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the Kavanaugh hearing really gave the impression that the Senate Judiciary Committee did not take Christine Blasey Ford's claim seriously.

And people see that example and [it] becomes what they think will happen to them. They think it's not going to be taken seriously. And even if it is investigated, nothing is going to happen to the person who has violated the rules. And so you combine all of that and you have a mix where people are staying silent.

On her announcement that she plans to vote for Joe Biden

When I talk about the model of what should be happening [to address issues of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination], I think the government should be our model. It wasn't in 1991, it wasn't in 2018.

But what we also know that in that time, between 1991 and today, we know how serious the issues that have been raised by me and by Christine Blasey Ford are. And my feeling is that this is an opportunity, with Joe Biden — who was involved in the Violence Against Women Act — to really take responsibility for charting a different course.

On whether she fully endorses Biden

I don't do political endorsements, I'm not really involved in politics. ... What I do know is that I'm making a choice about who I think can better address these issues.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Has enough changed in the three years since the Harvey Weinstein story broke and the #MeToo movement took off? A new report finds that for Hollywood and the entertainment business, the answer is no. The Hollywood Commission, a nonprofit that works to eradicate harassment and discrimination in the industry, surveyed entertainment workers nationwide and found many are staying silent because they fear retaliation, or they don't believe people in positions of power will be held to account.

Well, the chair of the commission is Anita Hill, who, of course, has fought her own battles over getting allegations of sexual harassment taken seriously. She accused now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas of harassment and testified under oath back in 1991. Professor Hill joins us now.

Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm glad to speak with you again.

ANITA HILL: I'm happy to be here.

KELLY: Tell me what surprised you in these survey results.

HILL: Well, the standout data was the data on accountability. We asked people, do you think that a person of higher rank who is found to have harassed a person of lower rank would be held accountable? And what we found is that 64% of the people we surveyed said that, in fact, that person would not be held accountable.

KELLY: I suppose that's the thing that surprised me. On the one hand, it's not surprising. We're dealing with such deeply entrenched culture and history here. On the other hand, it's been three years of #MeToo in the spotlight, and many powerful men have been held to account.

HILL: You're absolutely right. We've seen some very high-profile cases. And what we want to make sure is that it doesn't stop with just a few high-profile cases. We know that there are problems throughout workplaces, and we want to make sure that everybody, whatever their position is, can count on being heard.

KELLY: So that's one piece of this. The other is persuading people who believe they are being harassed, have been harassed, that they have a safe path to come forward and report it. I remember interviewing you, professor Hill, almost exactly two years ago - September 2018. And we were talking because it was in the middle of the confirmation battle over Brett Kavanaugh. And we talked about the personal cost of choosing to come forward. What do you say to someone who's weighing whether to do so or not?

HILL: Well, you're absolutely right. There are personal costs. But even when people are willing to take the risk, there are other things that they're considering. People don't come forward because they think they won't be taken seriously. Unfortunately, the Kavanaugh hearing really gave the impression that the Senate Judiciary Committee did not take Christine Blasey Ford's claim seriously. And people see that example and becomes, you know, what they think will happen to them.

KELLY: I want to ask you about Joe Biden because you have just announced that you plan to vote for him. And to remind people who may not be aware of the history, when you testified three decades ago against Clarence Thomas, it was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the chair of that committee presiding over your testimony was Joe Biden. You have said you do not think you were treated fairly and that he should have and has not taken responsibility for that. I'm curious about your evolution. What changed that now you think you're planning to vote for him come November?

HILL: Well, let me just say that when I talk about the model of what should be happening, I think the government should be our model. It wasn't in 1991. It wasn't in 2018. But what we also know that in that time between 1991 and today - we know how serious the issues that have been raised by me and by Christine Blasey Ford are. And my feeling is that this is an opportunity with Joe Biden, who was involved in the Violence Against Women Act, to really take responsibility for charting a different course.

KELLY: So you see this as an opportunity. I read you said you'd like to work with him on issues of harassment and discrimination and gender violence.

HILL: Well, yes. There are so many people who are working on this issue. Whether we're talking about the problems in schools or the problems in a workforce or the problems on the street, we know these problems exist. And none of us can stand by and say we're going to wait until the next generation fixes them.

KELLY: So let me push you on this because I asked you about voting for Joe Biden, and I'm not hearing a lot about Joe Biden. I'm hearing a lot about generational change and opportunities and having faith in the government and in the system. Is this a full-throated endorsement for candidate Joe Biden, or is this something more practical?

HILL: Well, my - you know, I don't do political endorsements. I'm not really involved in the politics of - I don't know what a full-throated endorsement is, even. What I do know is that I'm making a choice about who I think can better address these issues.

KELLY: Professor Hill, thank you.

HILL: Thank you.

KELLY: Anita Hill - she is chair of the nonprofit Hollywood Commission and university professor of social policy, law and women's and gender studies at Brandeis University. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.