#IBelieveAnita: Speaking Out Against Workplace Sexual Harassment

6438092847_14c2a5b22d_zWhen Anita Hill spoke out in 1991 about being sexually harassed by now-Justice Clarence Thomas, she changed the discourse on workplace sexual misconduct. In the new documentary Anita: Speaking Truth to Power, filmmaker Freida Lee Mock goes inside the trial and shows how Hill’s testimony opened a space for women to speak out about lewd workplace behavior.

While her brave act helped pave the way for safe-workplace legislation, Hill recognizes that little has changed for women since her harrowing experience. At a recent screening of Anita, Hill said, “Twenty-two years later, we know [sexual harassment is] still a problem. I think it’s time to start that conversation again.”

Every conversation about workplace sexual harassment begins with real women’s experiences—telling our stories prevents institutions from ignoring what goes on behind closed office doors. In honor of Anita, the woman and the film, we asked our readers on Facebook to share their stories of workplace sexual harassment. Read a sample below:

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If you have a story to share, we want to hear it: Don’t let your voice be silenced! Tweet your 140-character story to @msmagazine with the hashtag #IBelieveAnita—we’ll be retweeting stories to keep this conversation alive. You can also share with us on Facebook.

Before Hill’s testimony, women had virtually no resources to combat the harassment—everything from lewd comments to aggressive grabbing and assault—they faced at work. Now, you can do more than speak out. There are state and local laws against workplace sexual harassment, and many large companies have internal policies for handling complaints. You can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (though there are time limits on how long after the harassment you can file). There is also new legislation before Congress, The Fair Employment Protection Act, which would expand current legal protections to embrace more workers and types of harassment.

Telling your story is the first step to ending harassment—and knowing which laws are on your side can help you speak truth to power, just like Anita Hill.

Photo of Anita Hill courtesy of Flickr user Tulsa City-County Library licensed under Creative Commons 2.0



Stephanie Hallett is a writer and editor in Los Angeles. She can be found on Twitter @stephhallett.


  1. Jenny Caneen says:

    I worked at the Stouffer Orlando Resort hotel in Orlando. We had to order all drink orders at a station that had a narrow access. One of our managers (he was very fat) always stationed himself at the entrance of this station so that –every time we put in an order – our fannies had to brush his groin area. I was stupid and young, so didn’t know/didn’t go to HR to complain. I did the naive thing and said to him “I’m SURE you don’t understand this is bothering us, but …” After that, and his utter denial of knowing this was a problem, I got crap shifts and wasn’t allowed to leave a long shift when the hotel was at a low capacity (our pay was 2.17 per hour, so if there was only 11% occupancy, it made no sense to keep a server on – the policy was to let them go after an hour – but when he was working he’d keep me on for the full 8 hour shift). I quit that job, and almost immediately after lost my apt., and lived in my car until I found a new job.

  2. When I was a teenage camp counsellor at the YMCA in Hamilton, Ontario, my boss tricked me into going on a date with him — he told me there was a group outing planned, to go see a movie being shot on our campgrounds after-hours. When he picked me up, I asked where everyone else was, and he said that most of our coworkers were busy that night, which made me feel incredibly uneasy. He lied, then, and named a few people who said they’d meet us there. Because he was my boss, and I was 16, I couldn’t find a way to tell him to just take me home. Long story short he stuck his tongue down my throat. I wish I’d reported him — he was a camp-counsellor-4-life type, and I bet he pulled this stunt many, many times.

  3. Suzan Davis says:

    I had gone to work at a restaurant in the kitchen. I was the only woman. The male staff, one in particular liked to follow me into the walk in and corner me for a quick grope. I was young and didn’t know what to do. I called my grandmother who had been a cook for many years and she told me what to do. After that, I never entered the walk in or freezer without carrying a large chef’s knife. I never had to use it.

  4. Questions asked at interview: How many children do you have? How old are they? Do you use birth control? Don’t rember all the rest of the strange questions but felt like I was interviewing to be his wife instead of his salesperson. I have lots of others as I worked in a “mans” job for 25 years most of them were demeaning instead of sexual. It was like being married to 10 men. My husband has never been a jealous person but most of these men made comments about my hair, makeup and clothes. I gave up wearing makeup and skirts and changed my hair style to finally get comments to slow down but not enough to not here that certain jobs were a women’s job.

  5. Supposed Beacon in the Dark says:

    On the third day of my new job (the day after the CEO went back to the western part of the state) I had the lone male in our office, the second in command Senior Counselor – a snarly, snarky, tattooed (ex military) 400 pound man – walk up behind me and say “let the sexual harassment begin!”, I turned around in disbelief and replied (in a joking way because I couldn’t believe he was serious) yeah, good luck with that, I’m an ginger, I’m trained in self defense, have a permit to carry and I’m a lesbian. He just turned his back and walked away. Turns out that before if gotten there, he’d commented to another counselor about how great her boobs looked in that shirt and while another girl (100 pounds soaking wet, fresh out of college) was bent over putting paper in the printer, grabbed her by the hips and ground up against her backside (she was terrified, hid from him and quit shortly after). I was furious, went to the supervisor and her what he’d been up to… I was told by her that she would handle it. She didn’t, she was intimidated by him, nor did she take it up with the CEO. Three different times I personally and a couple other people heard him make extremely inappropriate comments to clients (all in drug/alcohol Regan, one was a minor), in addition there were numerous rumors about him from clients and four direct allegations of physical inappropriate behavior. I personally reported each incident to the supervisor as did other counselors. The supervisor apparently swept under the carpet because the sh!t really hit the fan one day and a client threatened to go to the state about him. The ceo called me and asked if I’d ever heard anything. I told her about every single episode -client and coworkers alike – and that more than one of us had reported everything to the supervisor ( who had just left for a better-paying position with the state), myself included. I’m disgusted that he got away with as much as he did and regret not going over my supervisor’s head, assuming there had been corrective action taken that the rest of us were not privy to. More than anything, I’m disappointed that our supervisor, a woman, couldn’t be counted on to protect her coworkers or clients.

  6. Barbara says:

    Talk to your teenagers if they babysit! I still remember the dad who walked me to my home and, before I went in, giving me my money followed by a very adult embrace and kiss. I was about thirteen and very confused, so I told no one. I’m 85 now and I haven’t forgotten that incident.

  7. Beth Ann says:

    I had a boss who would come up behind any female employee, put his hands around from back and then sing “If I said you have a beautiful body, would you hold it against me?” One couldn’t answer yes or no. He was arrested for statutory rape 10-20 years later. Someone finally had the courage and knowledge to report him. Until Anita, I had no idea that I had any choice, or that it was wrong. Thanks, Anita!

  8. Barbara Bailey Winn Wilson says:

    When I was in my 20’s I had a boss who would saunter into the office through the clerical pool and run his fingers between whatever garment and my neck and make sounds while licking his lips. He did this to some of the other young women as well so we finally got up the courage and went together as a group to the site director to voice our complaints. We were told that if we didn’t like the environment, get another job.
    Eventually I did leave and went to graduate school just to get away from the predatory environment.

  9. Although legal remedies are definitely worth pursuing, we need a cultural shift that makes it unacceptable for people to sexually harass others in the workplace (and in general); otherwise, it’ll never end.

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