It’s what victims of sexual violence call being re-victimized by the system they trusted. Experts call it institutional betrayal. Either way, it’s like being assaulted all over again and it can have profound, even fatal, consequences.
FIGHTING INSTITUTIONAL BETRAYAL
The most insidious feature of institutional betrayal is that while sexual violence and sexual harassment are generally inflicted by a perpetrator acting alone, and are often crimes of opportunity that are unplanned, by contrast, institutional betrayal is the product of the purportedly rational mind of the collective corporate or organizational entity, acting in a deliberate and premeditated fashion, frequently with the approval of an eminent and respected board of directors or governing body and with legal counsel at their side. When a single actor hurts you, it is bad enough but sometimes can be attributed to the “bad apple” theory of human behavior. But when an entire organization goes against you, it’s like the whole rotten tree fell on you.
These are often celebrated and highly valued organizations, including universities, the military, publicly listed corporations, churches, healthcare institutions, the legal system, law enforcement agencies and government bodies. When they act out in a way that harms victims, experts — like the concept’s acclaimed author Jennifer Freyd — warn that the sense of betrayal can be as profound and as toxic as the original incident.
The DNA of institutional betrayal can be left at the crime scenes of countless shattered lives. In the case of sexual violence, it has been directly linked to the suicide of victims like Lizzy Seeberg, a 19-year-old college freshman, and Krista Carle, once a brave member of the famed Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and who, as a victim of sexual violence, could not escape the dark clouds of betrayal in the way it was mishandled. In some of the scandal-screaming headlines that have defined the #MeToo era, top organizations like the RCMP, CBS, NBC, and the Weinstein Company, have been witting accomplices in compounding the wrong inflicted upon victims. Other organizations, like the Ontario Securities Commission and Ernst & Young, continue to do so openly and in plain site even today.
If we want to end sexual violence and sexual harassment, we need to end the culture of betrayal, retaliation and silence that too often descends upon women who speak out. No woman should ever be disrespected, threatened or gagged because she stood up against injustice and wrongdoing. And no victim of sexual violence should have to pay with her job, career, dignity, health or peace of mind because she came forward.
The ZeroNow Campaign™ empowers women in the workplace, in the community and on the campuses in standing against the forces of institutional betrayal that enable harm to continue. We are the only advocacy to adopt this goal as a part of our mission. It needs to be a crucial focus for the next #MeToo chapter. Want to help? Contact The ZeroNow Campaign™.
To see a current and ongoing example of institutional betrayal in action that reaches up to one of the highest offices in Canada and involves a top government agency, turn here.
Since I started writing and commenting on institutional betrayal and related issues, I have been inundated with stories from victims and as well as those in the clinical field and academics who have been generous enough to share their observations and experiences. If you have a story you’d like to share, always in complete confidence, please contact me here.