I once watched the 1996 television movie, Hostile Advances: The Kerry Ellison Story, starring Rena Sofer. This movie was the retelling of the real life events that led to Kerry Ellison filing a lawsuit against her employer for failing to take action after her repeated reports of workplace sexual harassment from a male co-worker. The Ellison vs. Brady case helped to change the way we view and respond to sexual harassment.
The movie depicted acts of workplace sexual harassment, as well as many attempts by the co-worker to publicly humiliate Kerry Ellison. But there was one scene in the movie that I found particularly gut-wrenching. The lead character, Kerry Ellison, after having reported the sexual harassment to several entities, sees a large posted announcement that the offending co-worker is receiving a promotion. In this scene, Kerry Ellison is visibly and vocally upset. The female co-worker standing next to her irritatingly asks, “Oh, Kerry, you’re not going to make a big deal about this, too, are you?” The look of shock and betrayal — and the chilling silence in that scene — still rattles me to this day. It was in that moment that Kerry Ellison realized that the very people who she thought were her friends were actually in silent agreement with her employer and labor union and thought that she really was just making a big deal out of harmless flirting. To Kerry Ellison’s astonishment, she now knew that she was more alone than she had originally thought.
So, my question is this: How are we responding to issues of sexual harassment in the church? Are our churches willing and able to put aside our own opinions and views about the people who report such infractions, in order to help them and to follow proper reporting procedures? Romans 12:15 tells us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” Are we listening and responding with a compassionate heart or with preconceived notions?