Institutional Betrayal and Betrayal Blindness

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 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).

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.)

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.

Research and Publications

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

american psychologist


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

Press Release



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

Press release for Freyd & Birrell (2013)



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

The Science of Campus Victimization and Climate Surveys


Institutional Betrayal in Medicine

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



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



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.



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.



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. (2015) UO can move beyond institutional betrayal. [Op-Ed] The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon), May 7, 2015, p A9.



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

Press release for Smith & Freyd (2013)

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




We are grateful for donations that support our research.


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.


Institutional Courage

In our book Blind to Betrayal (Freyd & Birrell, 2013) we urge institutions to cherish the whistle blower (see p. 173) and we offer suggestions for specific steps institutions can take to prevent and repair institutional betrayal. Insitutional betrayal is fixable. In Blind to Betrayal we also talk about institutional denial which plays such a crucial role in institutional betrayal. One particularly pernicious form of denial is DARVO (see p 119 of Blind to Betrayal; also see this web page about DARVO). Institutional retaliation toward whistle blowers is a form of institutional betrayal. Although retaliation is a significant problem, there are many laws that are designed to protect employees from retaliation. Although much institutional betrayal is maintained by the denial and lack of accountability implicit in betrayal blindness, sometimes institutions do manage to correct the course by becoming aware of the problem and taking steps to repair the damage and prevent further betrayal. Freyd referred to this repair as Institutional Courage.

Some key writings about Institutional Betrayal

Also see: