Oh yes? [ears go up like a dog’s] I’m very interested in that right now.
In their paper, UO doctoral student Carly P. Smith and psychology professor Jennifer J. Freyd draw from their own studies and diverse writings and research to provide a framework to help recognize patterns of institutional betrayal. The term, the authors wrote, aims to capture “the individual experiences of violations of trust and dependency perpetrated against any member of an institution in a way that does not necessarily arise from an individual’s less-privileged identity.”
An institution…like…a church? A university? The military? The NFL? Corporations, government, non-profits, political movements?
Sound familiar? Yeah.
While their paper focuses on sexual assaults on college campuses, in the military and in religious institutions, the authors say that such betrayal is a wide-ranging phenomenon. Throughout the paper, they discuss the case of a college freshman in the Midwest whose questionably handled allegations against a major university’s football player eventually contributed to her suicide.
“I think what struck me most in our examination of the literature was that people are starting to turn over this idea in their minds in all these different fields,” Smith said. “They are starting to notice that when we see abuse or other trauma occurring, it might behoove us to broaden our focus beyond the individual level.”
Yup. Yup yup yup.
They note that institutional betrayal is a dimensional phenomenon, with acts of omission and commission as well as instances of betrayal that may vary on how clearly systemic they are at the outset. Institutional characteristics that the authors say often precede such betrayal include:
• Membership qualifications with inflexible requirements where “conformity is valued and deviance quickly corrected as a means of self-policing among members.” Often, a member making an accusation faces reprisal because of the institutional value placed on membership.
• Prestige given to top leaders results in a power differential. In this case, allegations that are made by a member against a leader often are met by gatekeepers whose roles are designed to protect top-level authority.
• Priorities that result in “damage control” efforts designed to protect the overall reputation of the institution. Examples include the abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University, the movement of clergy to other locations in the face of allegations and hiding incidents of incest within family units. More recently, Freyd and Smith noted, the NFL demonstrated this quality by denying it had seen video footage of one of its players battering his fiancee and its previously long record of minor penalties for such interpersonal abuse.
• Institutional denial in which members who allege abuse are marginalized by the institution as being bad apples whose personal behaviors should be the issue.
Check, check, check, and check. We’re seeing that all the time, these days. Hour by hour, we’re seeing it. Bridges go up in flames as we see it.