Professor describes how institutions betray sex assault victims

Jennifer Freyd

When an individual reporting sexual harassment in the workplace is ignored or dismissed, he or she may feel a sense of betrayal. With her colleagues, UO professor of psychology Jennifer Freyd introduced the term “institutional betrayal” in 2007 to describe this phenomenon.

Freyd recently wrote an article for The Conversation. It was republished in the Los Angeles Times.

“Institutional betrayal is harm an institution does to those who depend upon it,” Freyd writes. “This betrayal can take the form of overt policies or behaviors, such as discriminatory rules or genocide. Harm can also mean failing to do that what is reasonably expected of the institution, such as not providing relief to disaster victims or failing to respond effectively to sexual violence.”

In one of Freyd’s studies, 40 percent of college student participants who were sexually victimized in an institutional setting experienced institutional betrayal. Her research with Penn State clinical psychologist Carly Smith found that institutional betrayal can cause emotional and physical health problems.

The antidote to institutional betrayal, Freyd writes, is institutional courage. In the article, she outlines 10 general principles to apply across institutions. These principles include educating leadership, conducting anonymous surveys, encouraging whistleblowing and engaging in self-study.

“Good intentions are a good starting place, but staff, money and time need to be dedicated to make this happen. As Joe Biden once said: ‘Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.’”

For more, see “When sexual assault victims speak out, their institutions often betray them” in the LA Times.

Freyd’s research focuses on the causes and impact of interpersonal violence and institutional betrayal on society and on mental and physical health and behavior. She investigates betrayal trauma theory in relation to child abuse, domestic violence, campus sexual violence, minority discrimination, gender and sexual orientation, appraisals of traumatic events, disclosures of abuse and institutional betrayal.