Anita Hill speaks on gender violence, presidential election at University of Iowa lecture

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Nearly 30 years ago, Anita Hill's testimony during the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Clarence Thomas gripped the nation.

Anita Hill speaks during a lecture at the University of Iowa's Iowa Memorial Union on Jan. 23, 2020. (REBECCA VARILEK/KCRG)

Hill said that Thomas had sexually harassed her while she was his aide at the Department of Education.

On Thursday night, Hill spoke at the University of Iowa in a lecture titled, “From Social Movement to Social Impact: Putting an End to Sexual Harassment.”

Her focus stretched beyond her own experience to emphasize how to understand and end gender-based violence, including sexual assault and harassment.

“I believe that gender violence is and has always been the literal and figurative foot on women’s necks, and if we are denied our authority to assert our own physical and emotional safety, can we ever expect to challenge other restrictions?” Hill said.

Hill told the audience she thought this problem would end within a few years after her testimony in 1991, but it hasn't.

Hill said she has spoken with many people who have experienced sexual assault, harassment, and violence and was surprised that this violence transcends gender. But a commonality among the stories she's heard is that there was always an imbalance of power.

Hill also referenced the upcoming Iowa caucuses and 2020 presidential election in her lecture.

"Since I'm in Iowa, I will just say, because you have something to do: We need leaders who will take up the mantle to get us where we need to be on gender-based violence,” she told the audience.

But Hill said the social impact to end gender-based violence requires not just government action but changed thinking as a society.

Tiffany O’Donnell, the CEO of Women Lead Change, an Iowa organization dedicated to development, advancement, and promotion of women, including in the workplace, said conversations about workplace harassment that hadn't previously happened started to take place after Hill's testimony and still continue today.

"There was a moment when we were looking at this and listening to these hearings saying, 'If this can happen there, is it happening where I work?' Or you had women saying, 'I know exactly what she's talking about,'" O’Donnell said.

Hill did say she believes the majority of the U.S. has progressed to now believing survivors of gender-based violence.

But she added that not everyone has and that there’s no “quick fix” to solving this issue.