Panel discusses Anita Hill documentary, history of sexual violence
After a showing of the documentary, “Anita Hill: Speaking Truth to Power,” a panel including leaders of Houston organizations against sexual assault as well as Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman spoke on the epidemic of sexual violence in historical and Houston-based contexts last Wednesday.
Hill, who accused Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was recently brought back into the spotlight after Christine Blasey Ford accused Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct. Hill will be speaking about ending sexual harassment in the workforce at Rice on March 25.
Sonia Corrales, panelist and chief program officer of the Houston Area Women’s Center, said she felt disheartened during the recent Kavanaugh-Ford hearing. Despite the similarities with the Hill case, she said the persistence of women and men to advocate for a culture of equality and respect gives her hope. Reflecting on a scene in the documentary in which Hill opens a filing cabinet of supportive letters she received after the hearing, Corrales said she feels tweets are the modern day equivalent.
“I recently saw on TV people tweeting that this had happened to them, and this shows that [violence against women] is unfortunately incredibly still prevalent in our community, on our campuses, in our schools from elementary all the way to college. This happens in the home. This happens everywhere,” Corrales said.
Ann Robison, a panelist and executive director of the Montrose Center, said that even prior to Hill’s testimony, women were discussing the pervasiveness of violence against women.
“It was just amongst ourselves,” Robison said. “It wasn’t in public. It wasn’t even with men. I don’t think women can get to even a third of my age and not have experienced some kind of sexual violence, whether it’s in high school, in college, on the street, at work.”
Corrales said she agreed that the pervasiveness of violence against women is disheartening. In her work at HAWC, Corrales said she oversees violence prevention programs including workshops targeted at college, high school and middle school students.
“Even at the middle school level, there’s a lot of violence that’s already happened,” Corrales said. “We hear them talk about pornography. That’s the reality of what we’re dealing with.”
An audience member said he believes in shortening the time frame for raising sexual misconduct accusations.
“If you look at the scorecard right now, Anita Hill testified and Clarence Thomas was still confirmed. And, Dr. Ford testified and Judge Kavanaugh is on the bench. What I’m looking for is a limit in the amount of time it takes to raise these issues because as a guy, we don’t remember,” he said. “We don’t remember what happened in the third grade, in the fifth grade, or ninth grade. And if you don’t shorten the time to bring in your complaints, I think you’ll be zero for three soon.”
Shelli Collins, Houston’s regional representative for the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, said she disagreed on putting limits on accusations.
“We can’t put time limits on when people should come forward, how people should come forward, what they should say,” Collins said. “If someone is sexually assaulted and they come forward 20 years from now, it doesn’t take away from what they’ve experienced. Our job is to support them.”
Corrales said many survivors of sexual assault and abuse do not immediately come forward, or even at all.
“At the Houston Area Women’s Center, I would say the overwhelming majority of the clients that we see have never told anyone,” Corrales said. “When they come to our center, this is the first time that they’ve told someone ... But I think so much of [why survivors don’t come forward] is rooted in what people in our society believe about sexual violence. Sexual violence is not an isolated incident, it’s a continuum of violence.”
Collins, too, elaborated on people’s misconceptions about why survivors choose to come forward or not.
“Only 9 percent of people who have been sexually assaulted ever report it. Of that 9 percent, so few of [the perpetrators] are ever prosecuted, so what do you think that says to somebody who has been sexually assaulted who said something to somebody and nothing actually happened?”
Gorman said reducing instances of sexual assault will require widespread cultural change in the way we socialize young people, support survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. Gorman said she remains hopeful that these goals will be achieved, citing positive posts from young people on social media and the number of new organizations aimed at reducing sexual violence.
“Over the years, I’ve comforted myself by thinking that social change is slow,” Gorman said. “One hundred years ago, I couldn’t vote and now I’m dean, so screw it! You know? These things do get better even when we’re in periods where we seem to be going backwards.”
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