Anita Hill tells graduates 'we cannot squander' the #MeToo moment

PHOTO: Anita Hill delivers a commencement address to graduates at Wellesley College, May 31, 2019, in Wellesley, Mass.PlayCourtesy Wellesley College
WATCH Anita Hill gives commencement speech at Wellesley College

Anita Hill called sexual harassment and assault a "public crisis" in her commencement address at Wellesley College on Friday, telling the graduating class that they "cannot squander the powerful voices of the millions" in the #MeToo movement.

Citing numbers showing a spike in the number of people reporting being victimized, Hill attacked those who try to convince people that "the stories and statistics shown in the prevalence of sexual misconduct are a hoax."

Hill said those people "prefer to believe their own myths." She said that "despite the evidence, sexual misconduct deniers have friends in high places."

After pausing, she added, "but not just that place."

Hill quoted National Institute of Health statistics showing that 22% of college students report at least one incident of sexual assault, and said that the Department of Defense revealed a 38% spike in the number of sexual harassment and assault cases in the military between 2016 and 2018.

Telling graduates that she "cannot sugarcoat" gender violence, Hill said that since sexual harassment and assault cases are under-reported, "we really do not know how many people are being affected by this kind of conduct."

She told the graduates that while "it's tempting," they should not scream at their computers, newspapers or TV sets when they hear misinformation and disinformation -- but she admitted that "I still do."

We "cannot squander" the voices of those who have come forward, and "we cannot squander" this moment of the #MeToo movement, she said.

In 1991 Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of unwanted sexual misconduct while she worked for him in the 1980s. Among her allegations, she said that Thomas pressured her to go out with him socially, made inappropriate remarks to her at work and discussed “pornographic materials.”

Hill publicly testified against Thomas during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings and faced intense public scrutiny. She was grilled by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was chaired by current presidential candidate Joe Biden.

PHOTO: (Professor Anita Hill is sworn-in before testifying at the Senate Judiciary hearing on the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination, Oct. 11, 1991. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images, FILE
(Professor Anita Hill is sworn-in before testifying at the Senate Judiciary hearing on the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination, Oct. 11, 1991.

Biden, speaking this past March to attendees at the Biden Courage Awards, which honors student heroes who’ve intervened to prevent sexual assault, said, "To this day, I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved."

In an interview with Good Morning America's Robin Roberts shortly after he announced his presidential campaign, Biden said that he "took responsibility" for the hearings.

“I believed her from the very beginning, but I was chairman. She did not get a fair hearing. She did not get treated well. That's my responsibility,” Biden said.

Biden also has said he issued an apology to Hill.

“I apologized for it,” the former vice president said ahead of his campaign event in April. “I apologize again because, look, here's the deal. She just did not get treated fair across the board. The system did not work.”