Dangerous Safe Havens: Institutional Betrayal Exacerbates Sexual Trauma

Carly Parnitzke Smith, Jennifer J. Freyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

296 Scopus citations


Research has documented the profound negative impact of betrayal within experiences of interpersonal trauma such as sexual assault (Freyd, 1994, 1996; Freyd, DePrince, & Gleaves, 2007). In the current study of college women (N = 345, 79% Caucasian; mean age = 19.69 years, SD = 2.55), we examined whether institutional failure to prevent sexual assault or respond supportively when it occurs may similarly exacerbate posttraumatic symptomatology-what we call "institutional betrayal." Almost half (47%) of the women reported at least one coercive sexual experience and another 21% reported no coercion, but at least one unwanted sexual experience (total reporting unwanted sexual experiences, N = 233). Institutional betrayal (e.g., creating an environment where these experiences seemed more likely, making it difficult to report these experiences) was reported across different unwanted sexual experiences (47% and 45% of women reporting coercion and no coercion, respectively). Those women who reported institutional betrayal surrounding their unwanted sexual experience reported increased levels of anxiety (R2 = .10), trauma-specific sexual symptoms (R2 = .17), dissociation (R2 = .11), and problematic sexual functioning (R2 = .12). These results suggest that institutions have the power to cause additional harm to assault survivors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-124
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of traumatic stress
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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