By Jacqueline Tempera MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In her commencement address to Wellesley graduates, Hill said she was "passing the baton" to a new generation of leaders in the fight to end gender violence while promising to never stay silent.
MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass.
Anita Hill called sexual assault a "public crisis" during her commencement address at Wellesley College Friday while rallying students to use the momentum behind the #MeToo as a way to force societal change.
"Where gender violence is concerned the challenges are immense. I cannot sugar coat it," Hill told the 571 graduates of the private women's college in Wellesley Friday afternoon. "The numbers speak for themselves."
Twenty-two percent of college students report at least one sexual assault during their academic careers, Hill said, citing statistics from the National Institute of Health. In 2018, the number of reported charges alleging sexual harassment increased by more than 12 percent from the previous year, Hill said, citing a study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Hill said these numbers just scratch the surface. Sexual assault and harassment are underreported making it impossible to know the full scope of the problem, Hill said.
Hill spoke of "sexual misconduct deniers" who believe the statistics and stories are a hoax. She took a subtle jab at President Donald Trump without naming him, saying: "Despite the evidence sexual misconduct deniers have friends in high places."
Her speech was interrupted by laughter from the crowd. She quipped: "But not just that one place."
While it is tempting to scream at the television, newspaper or computer screen when these theories take hold, Hill told the graduates to remain focused.
"This is what I want you to remember," Hill said. "We can not squander the powerful voices of the millions whose individual and collective voices have become known as the #MeToo movement. We cannot squander this moment."
The #MeToo movement began in 2006 with Tanara Burke, a community organizer and activist who encouraged women to share their stories of sexual abuse to promote what she calls "power through empathy."
Following a 2017 New York Times article that detailed widespread predatory behavior by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, actress Alyssa Milano reignited Burke's original call on her social media. Within hours, millions of people shared their own stories of abuse and harassment sparking a national movement.
Hill is a professor of social policy, law, and women's, gender and sexuality studies at Brandeis University. She is a leader in the civil and gender rights movements and has fought to combat sexual harassment throughout her career.
She rose to national prominence in 1991 when she testified before Congress about about the sexual harassment she said she endured while working for Clarence Thomas, then a Supreme Court nominee. Thomas sits on the Supreme Court today.
She continued on Friday, as she has for more than 20 years, to press for laws that protect victims, prevent assault and that could "eradicate gender violence once and for all."
"Yes we can pass the laws to protect victims and allow victims to become survivors," Hill said. "We can pass laws...without violating the rights of the accused. We can and we must."
Hill said she was "passing the baton" to a new generation of leaders in the fight to end gender violence during her address, while promising to never stay silent.
"What I once thought was a sprint to equality has turned out not to be so. I now see it as a relay, and I now see that the baton that will point the way to social justice must be passed from generation to generation," Hill said.
This moment is just the start, she said, as the crowd erupted in applause.