HOW BETRAYAL HARMS HEALTH
My colleagues and I first introduced the term institutional
betrayal in 2007, and have since explored it further, including in
a book, Blind to Betrayal. Institutional betrayal is harm an institu-tion
does to those who depend upon it. This betrayal can take the
form of overt policies or behaviours, such as discriminatory rules
Harm can also mean failing to do what is reasonably expected
of the institution, such as not providing relief to disaster victims
or failing to respond effectively to sexual violence. For instance,
some victims of assault are punished or even demoted or fired for
reporting the assault to their institution.
In our studies, we found that more than 40 per cent of college
student participants who were sexually victimized in an institu-tional
context did also report experiences of institutional betrayal.
These power ratios between harasser and victim can be quite
significant, depending on the victim’s status. While the medi-cal
resident’s issues in the first example are deeply troubling, she
may have more leverage to seek justice than a hotel or restaurant
worker who is the daily and unrelenting target of harassment.
My work with clinical psychologist Carly Smith at Penn State
shows that institutional betrayal can cause both emotional and
physical health problems, even for those who have experienced
similar levels of trauma from interpersonal betrayal.
One study found that institutional betrayal exacerbates symp-toms
associated with sexual trauma, such as anxiety, dissociation
and sexual problems.
Other researchers have found similar effects. For instance,
military sexual trauma survivors who have also experienced insti-tutional
betrayal have higher rates of PTSD symptoms and
depression than those who have not experienced it. Perhaps most
alarming, the survivors with institutional betrayal experiences had
higher odds of attempting suicide.
In another study, we discovered that institutional betrayal is
associated with physical health problems, such as headaches, sleep
problems and shortness of breath.
PERHAPS MOST ALARMING,
HAD HIGHER ODDS OF
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52 ❚ CONFERENCE ISSUE 2019 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL