By Claire Zillman
October 20, 2016

When several women accused U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump of sexual assault last week, his campaign denied the allegations outright, and in doing so questioned why the alleged victims had waited so long to come forward. “[F]or this to only become public decades later in the final month of a campaign for president should say it all,” Trump’s spokesman said.

That comment compelled some women—using the hashtag #WhyWomenDontReport—to explain why some victims don’t come forward right away—if at all. “Because we face a justice system that doesn’t protect us and a culture that doesn’t believe us,” one woman said. “For me, it was like re-living it all over again,” said another.

At the final day of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit, Anita Hill provided her own perspective. The Brandeis University professor, who in 1991 famously accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of workplace sexual harassment, told interviewer and TV host Chelsea Handler: “It was clear how I was treated in 1991 why I didn’t come forward before.” Her claims some 25 years ago came with huge personal costs as her character and the veracity of her testimony were called into question. Yet she’s also credited with catapulting the issue of workplace sexual harassment into America’s national consciousness for the first time.

On Wednesday, she drew contrasts between her experience and how the subject is treated today. “We’re more energized in terms of what we do about sexual harassment and sexual assault,” she said, but she still wants the question of why women don’t report such incidents to shift from the victim to society at large. She says we should be asking: “Why didn’t we do more to motivate individuals to come forward?”



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