Reaction to sexual harassment has finally changed since Hill

Published 7:46 am Friday, December 8, 2017

Before yesterday, sexual harassment laws were not, in practice, a meaningful.

It was, regardless of the law, just the way powerful men were with women.

But then the dam overflowed, the fires spread, the skies opened, and a few brave women came forward. Their courage changed everything. This week they became Time magazine’s Persons of the Year, recognized as the most influential persons of 2017. It is an award long in waiting.

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It began a long time ago in a place so far different than America today, in a senate hearing in 1991 where a woman named Anita Hill came forward to claim sexual harassment by then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Hill was clear, explicit, and articulate in her experiences in the presence of Mr. Thomas, her superior at work.

But Hill’s claims were rebutted by Republican politicians. Hill was tagged as, “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” as a means of discounting her creditability.  U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming, asked Hill why she would ever again speak to such a rude man, as though Thomas was not her work superior and her job was not dependent upon his support. Sen. Arlen Spector, R-Pennsylvania, asked why Hill, “didn’t do something about it,” at work as if the solution was as simple as Spector demanding his secretary bring him his morning coffee. Sen, Howard Heflin, D-Alabama, asked Hill if maybe she was just, “a scorned woman.”

This was how sexual harassment was handled when women came forward. They were slut shamed, humiliated and painted as, “a little bit nutty.” And in Hill’s case, her evidence was in the form of three other women willing to speak to affirm her accusations regarding Mr. Thomas. They were not allowed to testify to affirm Hill’s statements.

And so it went, powerful men harassing women in the workplace with virtual impunity, from Bill Cosby to Harvey Weinstein to Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes, men who could damage a woman’s career demanding sexual favors in exchange for career consideration. All just how business was done in entertainment, business, politics, and the military.

And then it changed, it all changed. The change happened in 2017, but had its origin in 2016, when then Presidential candidate Donald Trump was caught on video saying he could just grab a woman by her genitals because he was rich and famous. With at least 14 women making claims of sexual harassment against Trump, and all being attacked and vilified by Trump’s supporters, the women found themselves hurt and damaged for publicly stating their experiences with Trump.

And it proved, for the moment, that nothing had really changed since Anita Hill.

Like Hill, they were asked why they allowed a powerful man to take advantage of them, why they waited so long to report their experience, and if maybe they were liars or sluts themselves. Their reward for coming forward was humiliation. Trump’s reward? The White House.

With this background, after the election when more and more examples of harassment came out publically, only then did a few brave women say, “enough” and come forward to fight for their dignity.

These women have changed so much with their own sacrifice in the public spotlight. But lest we think the fight is over, this war on women won, there is Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Alabama, accused of sexual harassment of several women who he may have “dated” when they were teenagers and he was in his thirties. Moore, with the support of President Trump and the Republican Party, may win election to the Senate.

If Moore wins, shame on Alabama, and shame on the Republican Senate. Shame on all of us if we do not demand his eviction from the Senate.


Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.