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Monday, June 18, 2012

Righting the Wrongs in Sexual Harassment


Four possible responses to accusations of sexual harassment:
“I’m sorry, [but, how could you take it that way?]”
“I’m sorry, but it’s not my fault you see yourself as the victim.”
“Gee, I’m really sorry. I don’t know what I could have been thinking.”
“I’m truly sorry. Please allow me to make amends.”
Sexual harassment: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”[1]
The first two are obviously unrepentant—covertly, in the first instance, and overtly in the second. In the third instance real remorse is apparent. In the fourth, restitution is offered and restoration is sought. Only this fourth example uses a method that can right the wrongs in sexual harassment. Only this fourth example operates out of the Biblical perspective to advocate a pervasive justice that can work for all concerned.
***
Offenders and victims are both involved,
In a struggle for a relationship,
Where nastiness has devolved.
Surely we can see,
The need to right this wrong,
So parties can agree,
And everyone can move on.
Not everyone can move on, however, until both the full weight of justice and an adequate portion of mercy have been felt.
The Biblical model for righting the wrongs in sexual harassment requires that the victim feels justly treated, overall, and the offender feels mercifully treated, overall. Of course, such perfect outcomes don’t always transpire. But the Biblical model inspires us to search for Shalom (the just peace that translates into abundant wellbeing) for all parties.
Two Foci: Restitution And Restoration
One of the lamentable gaps in the Western system of law is the lack of requirement for personal and direct restitution to be made from offenders to victims.
How can a victim nurture the agency of forgiveness toward the offender if the offender is never required to make amends? When the offender is required to make right the wrong, as far as that can be established, a transaction of forgiveness often ensues. We don’t have to go far to find where systems of government grappled with this issue of justice that makes amends: go to the Old Testament Mosaic Law.
People are often critical of the Old Testament Law brought forth by Moses, but a key tenet of the Mosaic Law is of restitution toward restoration of relationships. Forgiveness is not just a New Testament idea. It is enshrined as God’s wisdom as it is woven into the very fabric of the entire Bible.
When restitution is offered and received in good faith, which we can know is the Biblical requirement, restoration of the offender can begin to take place.
It is always the Biblical mandate to restore the sinner—where they wish to be restored; this is implicit in the modality of making restitution. This can be a hard thing to swallow for victims, but where restitution has been offered and received in good faith, restoration of the offender is the next logical step.
A Necessary Social Justice
Whenever we think of sexual harassment there is always justice that must be served.
But justice in a social environment means something comprehensively holistic. Justice needs to be sweeping and pervasive; peace is the conclusion we strive for—a just peace.
A just peace is one that is fashioned for all parties. Where one party remains aggrieved, even a little, justice—in its most beautiful and fullest sense—has not been served.
Righting the wrongs in sexual harassment is about this holistic justice, such that everyone can truly move on. Relational health, both interpersonal and communal, is always the key.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.


[1] J.K. & J.O. Balswick, Authentic Human Sexuality: An Integrated Christian Approach (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), p. 224. This entire article is predicated from the chapter, Sexual Harassment.

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