Doctoral Dissertation
University of Oregon

Title: Collective Ongoing Betrayal Trauma: Gendered and Racialized Police Violence toward the Black Community


Melissa L. Barnes

Defended & Completed May 2021
PhD to be granted September 2022 after clinical internship

Advisor Freyd, Jennifer J.

Dissertation Abstract

Racialized and gendered police violence is a pernicious problem for Black communities. For my dissertation, I empirically tested a novel theoretical concept, Collective Ongoing Betrayal Trauma (COBT). COBT integrates the concepts of betrayal trauma, vicarious trauma, collective trauma, and institutional betrayal to examine the psychological consequences of indirect exposure to racialized and gendered police violence. I tested the theory of COBT by measuring the impact written vignettes that depicted gendered and racialized police violence toward Black Americans on Black participants’ mental health and well-being. I also examined patterns in participants’ reactions to the vignette based on participants’ binary gender identity. Black, African American, and multi-racial participants were recruited through an online platform to complete an online survey. Each participant read one randomly selected vignette from five possible vignettes. Data were analyzed using 1,270 participants. Outcomes of interest include vicarious trauma, collective trauma, mental health symptoms, and changes in racial and gender identities. Three main takeaways are discussed. First, the facets of COBT were significantly correlated with each other, which provides support for COBT as a singular concept. Second, men and women, on average, experience indirect exposure to discriminatory police violence in different ways, depending on who the victim is and what type of violence the victim is subjected to. Third, victim gender and type of violence are both important yet separate aspects of indirect exposure to discriminatory violence that should be considered in research, clinical, and advocacy work. Academic, societal, and clinical implications of this research are discussed, as well as future directions.

See full dissertation (pdf)

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