Institutional betrayal

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Institutional betrayal is a concept introduced by psychologist Jennifer Freyd and her students in 2009 (Platt, Barton, & Freyd, 2009).[1] A neologism, or newly-defined term, institutional betrayal refers to "wrongdoings perpetrated by an institution upon individuals dependent on that institution, including failure to prevent or respond supportively to wrongdoings by individuals (e.g. sexual assault) committed within the context of the institution".[2] It is an extension of betrayal trauma theory. In a landmark study, Carly P. Smith and Jennifer Freyd (2013) documented psychological harm caused by institutional betrayal.[3] A legal analysis concludes that this study is reliable under Frye and Daubert standards.[4] When institutions such as universities cover up violations such as rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse (as in the Jerry Sandusky case), this institutional betrayal[5] undermines survivors' recovery.

The term is receiving increased attention based on recent White House statements about sexual assault on college campuses.[6] The term is also used by the Our Harvard Can Do Better student group at Harvard University. Recent debate about how colleges respond to sexual assault by students has brought this issue renewed media attention.[7][8][9]

Institutional betrayal can occur within families, governments and the military, organizations, workplaces, religious institutions, or any organizational system in which people are dependent on systemic protection.[10] Individuals who have experienced extensive trauma appear to be both less satisfied with police responses in the face of an intimate partner violence incident and more distrustful of police.[11] Therefore, these individuals may experience feelings of institutional betrayal due to a perceived failure of the police to prevent further revictimization. Individuals who have been frequently retraumatized are also the ones most likely to utilize health care and mental health services. Institutional betrayal in the medical system is currently being investigated in the Canadian health care system. It is hypothesized that institutional betrayal in the medical system will explain symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety above and beyond the effects of general tendencies to trust others or the patient satisfaction with the care received.[12]


  1. ^ Platt, M., Barton, J., & Freyd, J.J. (2009). A betrayal trauma perspective on domestic violence. In E. Stark & E. S. Buzawa (Eds.) Violence against Women in Families and Relationships (Vol. 1, pp. 185-207). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  2. ^ Freyd, Jennifer. "Institutional Betrayal". Retrieved 30 April 2014. 
  3. ^ Smith, C.P. & Freyd, J.J. (2013). "Dangerous safe havens: institutional betrayal exacerbates sexual trauma" (PDF). Journal of Traumatic Stress. 26 (1): 119–124. doi:10.1002/jts.21778. PMID 23417879. 
  4. ^ Wendy Murphy; Catherine S. Martin; Carly P. Smith. "Institutional betrayal trauma" (PDF). 
  5. ^ "Rape Victims Don't Trust The Fixers Colleges Hire To Help Them". 
  6. ^ Steinhauer, Jennifer. "Behind Focus on College Assaults, a Steady Drumbeat by Students". Retrieved 30 April 2014. 
  7. ^ "Scientists to AAU member university presidents". 
  8. ^ Kingkade, Tyler (26 November 2014). "Though Under Fire For Its Own Rape Response, UVA Advises Other Schools Nationwide" – via Huff Post. 
  9. ^ "OPINION: Official campus statistics for sexual violence mislead". 
  10. ^ Freyd, Jennifer and Pamela Birrell (2013). Blind to Betrayal: Why we fool ourselves we aren't being fooled. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-60440-3. 
  11. ^ Tamaian, A. & Klest, B. (2014). Rate of revictimization exacerbates both dissatisfaction and distrust with the police in survivors of intimate partner violence. Poster to be presented at the Canadian Psychological Association 75th Annual Convention, Vancouver, British Columbia, June 5–7, 2014.
  12. ^ Tamaian, A. (2014). Institutional betrayal in the medical system: Development, reliability, and validity of a self-report questionnaire (Unpublished master's thesis). University of Regina, Regina SK.