Institutional betrayal

Carly Parnitzke Smith, Jennifer J. Freyd

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

404 Scopus citations


A college freshman reports a sexual assault and is met with harassment and insensitive investigative practices leading to her suicide. Former grade school students, now grown, come forward to report childhood abuse perpetrated by clergy, coaches, and teachers-first in trickles and then in waves, exposing multiple perpetrators with decades of unfettered access to victims. Members of the armed services elect to stay quiet about sexual harassment and assault during their military service or risk their careers by speaking up. A Jewish academic struggles to find a name for the systematic destruction of his people in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. These seemingly disparate experiences have in common trusted and powerful institutions (schools, churches, military, government) acting in ways that visit harm upon those dependent on them for safety and wellbeing. This is institutional betrayal. The purpose of this article is to describe psychological research that examines the role of institutions in traumatic experiences and psychological distress following these experiences. We demonstrate the ways in which institutional betrayal has been left unseen by both the individuals being betrayed as well as the field of psychology and introduce means by which to identify and address this betrayal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)575-584
Number of pages10
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Institutional betrayal'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this