Institutional Betrayal and Institutional Courage

Jennifer J. Freyd, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon

Institutional Betrayal

The 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. The term "Institutional Betrayal" as connected with betrayal trauma theory was introduced in presentations by Freyd in early 2008 and is discussed in more detail in various publications, including in a section starting on page 201 of Platt, Barton, & Freyd (2009) and in a 2013 research report (Smith & Freyd, 2013). Institutional betrayal is a core focus of the book Blind to Betrayal, by Freyd and Birrell, 2013. Currently the most definitive exploration of institutional betrayal is presented in the American Psychologist (Smith & Freyd, 2014). Also see Freyd, 2018.

Institutional DARVO occurs when DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim & Offender) is committed by an institution (or with institutional complicity) as when police charge rape victims with lying. Institutional DARVO is a particularly aggressive form of institutional betrayal. Also see Fitzgerald & Freyd, 2017.

Institutional Courage is the antidote to institutional betrayal. It includes institutional accountability and transparency, as when institutions conduct anonymous surveys of victimization within the institution: "Enabling the methodical collection of data — and encouraging their transparent distribution and study — will signal to campus communities across the country that institutional betrayal can be replaced by institutional courage." (Freyd, 2014). Also see Freyd, 2018.

Research and Publications

Links to some of our Institutional Betrayal projects. A more complete list of publications from our lab is here.

Institutional Courage:

10 Steps For Institutions


Freyd, J.J. (2018). When sexual assault victims speak out, their institutions often betray them, The Conversation, 11 January 2018. (Republished by Salon, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, AP, and many others.)

The details of institutional courage depend to some extent on the type of institution involved, but there are 10 general principles that can apply across most institutions.(Continue Reading for the 10 Steps)

Sexual Harassment and Institutional Betrayal


Freyd, J.J. (2017, June). Sexual Harassment: Moving from Institutional Betrayal to Institutional Courage. Invited presentation to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Workshop on Impact of Sexual Harassment in Academia, Irvine, California, 20 June 2017. (Video is available here; Freyd presentations starts at 1:57:00)

Rosenthal, M.N., Smidt, A.M., & Freyd, J.J. (2016). Still second class: Sexual harassment of graduate students. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 40, 364-377.


Institutional Betrayal Theory

american psychologist


Smith, C.P. & Freyd, J.J. (2014).  Institutional betrayal. American Psychologist, 69, 575-587.

Daubert & Frye analysis (Murphy, Martin, & Smith, 2014)

Freyd, J.J. (2018). When sexual assault victims speak out, their institutions often betray them, The Conversation, 11 January 2018. (Republished in LA Times, Chicago Tribune, AP, and many others.)

Institutional Betrayal and Betrayal Blindness


Freyd, J.J.& Birrell, P.J. (2013).  Blind to Betrayal.  John Wiley & Sons. 

Dangerous Safe Havenssmithfreyd

Institutional betrayal associated with mental suffering:

Smith, C.P. & Freyd, J.J. (2013). Dangerous Safe Havens: Institutional Betrayal Exacerbates Sexual Trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 26, 119-124.

Institutional betrayal associated with physical suffering:

Smith, C. P., & Freyd, J.J. (2017). Insult, then injury: Interpersonal and institutional betrayal linked to health and dissociation. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, & Trauma, 26, 1117-1131, DOI: 10.1080/10926771.2017.1322654


Campus Sexual Violence and Institutional Betrayal Surveys



The UO Sexual Violence and Institutional Betrayal Campus Surveys: 2014 and 2015

The Science of Campus Victimization and Climate Surveys


Conference on:
Institutional Betrayal:  Inequity, Discrimination, Bullying, and Retaliation in Academia

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The Pacific Sociological Association’s 88th Annual Meeting/Conference

Institutional Betrayal:  Inequity, Discrimination, Bullying, and Retaliation in Academia

At the Hilton Portland & Executive Tower,
Portland, Oregon

Thursday, April 6 to Sunday, April 9 2017

Preliminary Full Schedule

Schedule of Freyd Dynamic Lab Presentations

Journal Special Issue:

Institutional Betrayal

& Betrayal TraumaJAMT


Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, & Trauma -- Special Issue: Institutional Betrayal & Betrayal Trauma, Volume 26, 2017



Compelled Disclosure, Compelled Betrayal



The Problem with “Required Reporting” Rules for Sexual Violence on Campus by Jennifer Freyd, Huffington Post Blog, 25 April 2016.

Compelled Disclosure -- The Problem with "Required Reporting" of Sexual Violence on College Campuses -- Resources and Information


atyourownriskInstitutional Betrayal in Medicine


Smith, 2015, First do not harm: Institutional betrayal in health care. Smith doctoral dissertation, 2015.

Tamaian, Klest & Mutschler (2016) Patient dissatisfaction and institutional betrayal in the Canadian medical system: A qualitative study

First-of-its-kind study examines 'institutional betrayal by Staff, CTV News, 6 January 2018.



Institutional Betrayal in the Military

Reinhardt, K. M., Smith, C. P., & Freyd, J. J. (2016). Came to serve, left betrayed; MST and the trauma of betrayal. In L. S. Katz (Ed.), Understanding and treating military sexual trauma (pp. 61-78). New York: Springer.

Monteith, L. L., Bahraini, N. H., Matarazzo, B. B., Soberay, K. A., & Smith, C. P. (2016). Perceptions of Institutional Betrayal Predict Suicidal Self‐Directed Violence Among Veterans Exposed to Military Sexual Trauma. Journal of clinical psychology, 72, 743–755.



Judicial Betrayal law review


Smith, C.P, Gómez, J. M., & Freyd, J. J. (2014). The Psychology of Judicial BetrayalRoger Williams University Law Review, 19, 451-475.


Psychologists, Torture, & Institutional Betrayal


Gomez, J.M., Smith, C.P, Gobin, R.L., Tang, S.S., & Freyd, J.J. (2016). Collusion, Torture, and Inequality: Understanding the Actions of the American Psychological Association as Institutional Betrayal [Editorial]Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 17, 527–544.

Tang, S.S. (2015). Blindness to institutional betrayal by the APA.  [Letter]. BMJ, 351, h4172.

Gómez, J. M. (2015, August 6). Psychological Pressure: Did the APA commit institutional betrayal? [OpEd]. Eugene Weekly.

Freyd JJ. (2009). Rules of conscience: betray ethics, betray trust [letter]. BMJ 338, b2191.

Racial Discrimination & Institutional Betrayal



Gómez, J. M. (2015). Microaggressions and the enduring mental health disparity: Black Americans at risk for institutional betrayal. Journal of Black Psychology, 41(2), 121–143.

Cromer, L.D., Vasquez, L., Gray, M.E., Freyd, J.J. (2018). The Relationship of Acculturation to Historical Loss Awareness, Institutional Betrayal, and the Intergenerational Transmission of Trauma in the American Indian Experience. Journal of Cross Cultural Psychology, 49, 99–114.


More Commentary


Freyd, J.J. (2014). Official campus statistics for sexual violence mislead. [Op-Ed] Al Jazeera America, July 14, 2014.

Gomez, J.M. & Freyd, J.J. (2014). Institutional betrayal makes violence more toxic. [Op-Ed] The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon), August 22, 2014, p A9.

Freyd, J.J. (2014) Use science as tool on campus sexual assault.  [Op-Ed] The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon), November 9, 2014, p H4.

Freyd, J.J. (2018). When sexual assault victims speak out, their institutions often betray them, The Conversation, 11 January 2018. (Republished in LA Times, Chicago Tribune, AP, and many others.)



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Betrayal Blindness

Betrayal blindness is the unawareness, not-knowing, and forgetting exhibited by people towards betrayal. The term "betrayal blindness" was introduced by Freyd (1996), and expanded in Freyd (1999) and Freyd and Birrell (2013) in the context of Betrayal Trauma Theory. This blindness may extend to betrayals that are not traditionally considered "traumas," such as adultery, and also to institutional betrayal. Victims, perpetrators, and witnesses may display betrayal blindness in order to preserve relationships, institutions, and social systems upon which they depend. (Also, see Eileen Zurbriggen's essay on Betrayal Trauma in the 2004 Election.)


Institutional denial plays a crucial role in institutional betrayal. One particularly pernicious form of denial is DARVO -- Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender (see p 119 of Blind to Betrayal; also see this web page about DARVO). Institutional retaliation toward whistle blowers often follows a DARVO pattern. (Although retaliation is a significant problem, victims should know that there are many laws that are designed to protect employees from retaliation. )

Institutional Courage

Institutional betrayal can be replaced by institutional courage (Freyd, 2014). Courageous institutions refrain from punishing the whistleblower. Rather, cherishing the whistleblower is what a courageous -- and wise -- institution does (see p 173 of Blind to Betrayal, Freyd & Birrell, 2013) A remarkable example of institutional courage occurred when Oregon State University hired Brenda Tracy, a survivor of rape who had initially been betrayed by the institution:

After Tracy came forward, Oregon State issued a public apology for how it had responded to her report more than a decade earlier. And then the school hired her to be a consultant on how it should handle sexual assault. Rather than freezing out the whistleblower, OSU regularly brings Tracy in to speak to classes, sports teams and members of Greek life about sexual violence. (Kingkade, 2016)

(Also #institutionalcourage)

The Free Press

In Blind to Betrayal (Freyd & Birrell, 2013), we noted that a free press is at the heart of being aware of societal betrayal - at the heart of defending against and repairing institutional betrayal. More on this at free press and in this Huffington Post blog entry.

Media Coverage

Recent and Upcoming Lectures and Presentations

Varieties of Institutional Betrayal

Institutional betrayal can take many forms. Some situations may appear to be easily identified as involving institutional betrayal whereas others may be less obvious at first glance, but still constituting institutional betrayal. This graph is intended to convey the role of two dimensions of institutional betrayal that may impact how easy it is to identify the role of the institution. Note that although less obvious perhaps, institutional betrayal can be at the center of events that seem to be isolated when those events happen in an institutional context and similarly it can be responsible for harmful acts of omission.


History of the term Institutional Betrayal in context of Betrayal Trauma Theory

Some Key Writings


One of the translations of Blind to Betrayal


Measurement Instruments: Institutional Betrayal Questionnaire (IBQ), IBSQ, & IBQ-H

Carly Smith and Jennifer Freyd have been developing the Institutional Betrayal Questionnaire (IBQ) to measure institutional betrayal regarding sexual assault. The IBQ is designed to measure institutional betrayal that occurs leading up to or following a sexual assault (e.g., [The institution] "... created an environment where sexual assault seemed like no big deal"; "... responded inadequately to reports of sexual assault"). The IBQ also measures identification with the institution and prompts for a description of the institution involved. There is now an IBQ-2, one that includes support items, and one that focusses on health care. The full IBQ (IBQ-2, IBSQ, and IBQ-H) can be found here.


Also see: