By State Representative, Leon D. Young
It’s hard to imagine that 27 years have passed since the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas debacle mesmerized the nation’s attention. By most political yardsticks, this a considerable period of time. However, when it comes to the thorny, hot-button issue of sexual misconduct, it remains to be seen how much has really changed.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual misconduct and, regrettably, it’s not the first time in American history this has happened. Make no mistake, there are definite parallels between Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh, and lawyer Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against then nominee Clarence Thomas.
The details of both situations have some similarities: both accusers are university professors who initially made their accusations of misconduct confidentially or anonymously but were driven by a sense of civic duty to risk everything to come forward against powerful men. Christine Blasely-Ford, a psychology professor at Palo Alto University and Stanford, accused a drunken 17-year old Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her when she was 15 at a 1982 house party in suburban Maryland in a letter to her Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. Eshoo then passed it along to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, in July.
Professor Hill’s allegations against Thomas in 1991 were somewhat different in that they concerned a pattern of harassment and inappropriate behavior as opposed to one isolated alleged assault. During a private interview with the FBI, Hill accused Thomas of sexually harassing her and creating a hostile work environment over several years while she worked for him in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in the early 1980s.
Even after the #MeToo movement has brought down dozens of high-profile men and sparked a national reckoning over sexual misconduct, there are striking similarities between how Ford is treated now and how Hill was treated 27 years ago. If Ford testifies, both women will be questioned by an all-male panel of GOP Senators. While there are now four women on the Judiciary Committee, they are all Democrats.
In 1991, Republicans on the Committee pressed Hill on the most sexually explicit details of the alleged harassment and sought to undermine her credibility at every turn. Why, they wondered, did she not report the alleged harassment at the time? Why did she take another job under Thomas at the EOEC after being harassed at the Justice Department? They pointed to Hill once giving Thomas a ride to the airport—as evidence that she was lying about being harassed.
Operating from the same playbook, some Republican senators and commentators have zeroed in on Ford’s lack of recollection of some of the key details on the alleged incident, like whose house the assault occurred at, doubting the year it happened, and her not speaking publicly about the incident for 35 years, to accuse her of lying about the entire incident.
Not surprisingly, both women have also been accused of suffering from mental illness or delusions. Some Thomas supporters accused Hill of suffering from “erotomania,” a condition that causes people to have wild romantic or sexual delusions. Ed Whelan, Kavanaugh’s former coworker at the Department of Justice, wondered on Twitter if Ford’s “long course of psychotherapy included recovered-memory therapy, dubious method known to create false memories.” (He has since deleted the tweet.) Another conservative commentator simply called her a “loon.”
It remains to be seen what the ultimate outcome will be with respect to Brett Kavanaugh being confirmed. It’s important to remember that Donald Trump and Republicans are already committed to seeing this nomination move forward, irrespective of Dr. Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And, further evident by the fact, the Senate has scheduled a vote on the Kavanaugh nomination for the very next day.
In the grand scheme of things, Congress and the country have a very long way to go in searching for the truth in alleged sexual misconduct scenarios. The accuser is seldom believed, the accuser’s life is literally turned upside down and, in most instances, the accuser is further victimized in coming forward, but this time the humiliation is in public. Who in their right mind would sign up for this, unless one is totally committed to telling the truth?