Lynn Yeakel remembers watching a panel of men grill Anita Hill in 1991 as she described alleged unwanted sexual advances made by a Supreme Court nominee.
"They just didn't get it," said Yeakel, who the next year ran for Senate against Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter, Hill's main inquisitor. "They did not understand what she was talking about, and they didn't believe her."
Revelations about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have felt like Anita Hill 2.0 for some who draw parallels between Hill's accusations against Justice Clarence Thomas and those lodged Sunday in the Washington Post by Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh attacked her when they were teenagers. Both women are respected academics who accused a Supreme Court nominee, widely expected to be confirmed, of sexual impropriety. Ford's attorney has said the California woman would agree to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee — a hearing has reportedly been scheduled for Monday — jogging memories of Hill testifying before the same panel and being accused of perjury by Specter.
Kavanaugh has strongly denied the allegations, and the White House is standing behind its nominee. Thomas denied the accusations against him as well. But there are key differences.
Hill, who was interviewed by the FBI before going public, accused Thomas of workplace-based sexual harassment that she said took place when they were both adults working for the federal government. Ford, who initially wanted her identity to remain confidential, told the Post that information about the allegations had leaked, and stepped forward after deciding to tell her own story. She contends that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and groped her at a house party in Maryland one summer in the early 1980s, and she said he put his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream.
"I thought he might inadvertently kill me," said Ford, 51, now a psychology professor at Palo Alto University. She added that Kavanaugh was "stumbling drunk."
Hill was widely accused of coming forward for the sake of publicity and was excoriated by Thomas, who referred to the proceedings as a "high-tech lynching for uppity blacks." In October 1991, a USA Today survey found "that almost twice as many people believed Thomas as believed Hill."
That changed. Her testimony is seen as one of the events that gave way to the "Year of the Woman," or the 1992 elections, when women like Yeakel ran in record-breaking numbers.
This year has also been called the "Year of the Woman" — the president has faced allegations of sexual misconduct, and there's #MeToo, the social-media driven, sexual harassment-disclosure movement that started last fall and has brought down men of power in every field.
"The times now are so different, thank heavens, in terms of all of what's going on with women speaking up and coming forward, even at the risk of completely changing the course of their lives," said Yeakel, who now leads an initiative meant to get more women involved in politics.
That public perception — and the potential political fallout — will no doubt have an impact on how senators handle Kavanaugh's confirmation as it moves forward. Ford's attorney said Republicans "intend to play hardball." (The Senate Judiciary Committee is made up of 21 members, of which four are women.)
"They intend to grill her," Katz told CBS This Morning on Monday. "This is not an exercise that is designed to get at the truth. This is an exercise that's designed to terrify somebody that's already been traumatized."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said Sunday that the timing of the allegations was "disturbing" and raised "a lot of questions about Democrats' tactics and motives." Republican Sen. Mike Lee's communications director on Twitter highlighted that the therapist's notes didn't name Kavanaugh.
Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.), who says she was motivated to run for the Senate after watching Hill testify, urged her colleagues to "treat this survivor with empathy and humanity, and make sure that the United States Senate in 2018 doesn't send the signal it sent to millions of women in 1991 who were scared to speak up, afraid to share their stories, and watched on television as someone very much like them was attacked and maligned."
Carol Tracy, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Women's Law Project, said the Thomas hearings were "clearly an exercise in victim-blaming." Today, she said, the public won't tolerate "character assassination."
Lisa Tucker, a professor at Drexel University's Thomas R. Kline School of Law and an expert on the Supreme Court, said that if Ford testifies, it'll be "markedly different."
"I think there will at least be the appearance of propriety," she said. "I think people will be respectful of her, and her lawyer will advise her to be limited in statements she makes."
Ford might face a more empathetic panel of politicians. But she's already faced something Hill didn't have to 25 years ago: internet mobs and online trolls attacking her credibility and sharing her personal information.
Soraya Chemaly, the director of the Speech Project at the Women's Media Center, an effort designed to raise public awareness about online harassment, said women who are publicly named as accusers — voluntarily or not — often face coordinated attacks that can be emotionally traumatizing. This is especially true in politics, more divisive than ever.
"A lot of people think these are disaffected boys sitting in their parents' basement," she said. "These are adult men strategically planning what they want to do."
Conservative blogs have deemed the allegation a "transparent political hit job" and described Ford as "a rabid anti-Trump #Resist activist." Multiple phone numbers that supposedly belong to her were shared on Twitter, while 4chan users posted violent GIFs and scrambled to be the first to post Ford's home address. Conspiracy theorist groups on Reddit have coordinated plans to dig up dirt on her.
Controlling what Chemaly called "cross-platform harassment" can be a bit like playing Whack-a-Mole because even if the posts violate rules on one platform and are removed, they might not be on another.