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I came forward about being groped by Clarence Thomas. Was it worth it? I don’t know

  • Author: Moira Smith
    | Opinion
  • Updated: September 22, 2018
  • Published September 22, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court. (iStock / Getty Images)

Moira Smith is an Anchorage attorney. 

I have never met Anita Hill. I have never met Christine Blasey Ford. But we share an unfortunate fate: reluctantly, and at a personal cost, we have all accused a sitting or prospective U.S. Supreme Court justice of sexual misconduct. The question we and other women who have accused powerful men carry, quietly, is whether it was worth it.

In October 2016, when the Access Hollywood tape became public, our nation heard our future president boast about grabbing women in our most private places, beginning a national conversation about sexual harassment and assault. Shortly thereafter, I shared a post on my Facebook page, relaying an incident in which Clarence Thomas groped me when I was 24. I asked: if it happened to me, a privileged, white attorney, how many times have things like this and worse happened to women with less privilege?

The post got some attention. A college friend approached me about talking with a veteran Supreme Court reporter. In the overwhelming weeks that followed, I went back and forth on whether to put my grievance on the public record.

I knew that as soon as I did, the most interesting thing about me would be the thing I'd like most to forget. I would lose the quiet dignity of my family and professional life, even in a place as far away as Alaska. I suspected, though I did not fully understand, Justice Thomas' defenders would be swift, ruthless and prepared.

But I decided to tell my story anyway.

I have a young daughter and a young son. I wanted to play a tiny role in changing how these matters were handled when they get older. And I spoke up because of who my accused is; the nation deserved to know.

To be sure, coming forward with a 17-year-old incident like mine is problematic. No one at the party saw it; I had no eyewitnesses. It came down to a credibility call. A classic "He said; she said."

In the hours after the article came out, I placidly ignored calls from national television and print journalists while working in my job as a regulatory attorney. I prepared to escape on a weekend trip with my husband and children. But, later, I couldn't stop myself from reading comments and the tweets. The accusations that I had lied or come forward out of political motivation were predictable, but still they worked their way into my heart and brain. I'd unquestionably experienced what happened. But I wouldn't be believed.

My darkest moment came in Alaska's darkest season. Up in the early hours, alone with my own thoughts, I realized I'd been naïve. Other than the stark denials from Justice Thomas' defenders, nothing happened. There was a lot of talk about believing women, about the progress we've made, but when the stakes are high enough, we're still willing to ignore their voices or shout them down.

The nation had moved on, but there I was, up in the dark, still tortured by my choice to reveal something that happened decades ago. Reporters continued to contact me, but I didn't respond. The personal cost was so high. What would it change?

That's not to say I've had no redeeming moments. My most impactful act may not have been the national story, but the Facebook post. I've experienced a catharsis among women I know. Countless close friends and acquaintances in my community have come to me with their stories, and some have moved forward with reporting them to the authorities. Then I watched the #MeToo movement spread and was encouraged by other women who took the brave and scary step of speaking up.

In my more optimistic times, I like to think that my contribution to this conversation might have pushed it forward in some small way. But, now, as the country is faced with the important question of whether to believe Ford, a woman who is risking her privacy, credibility, career, and even personal safety, I find myself thinking of what this must be like for her personally. I wonder if, in her darker moments, she regrets it. Because I still ask myself if it was worth it for me. And, to be honest, I'm not sure.

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