When sexual assault victims speak out, their institutions often betray them

Institutional betrayal can lead to real psychological and physical harm.

Jennifer J. Freyd, University of Oregon
Republish under Creative Commons license

 

A 27-year-old medical resident in general surgery is sexually harassed by two men – the chief resident and a staff physician at the hospital. She feels trapped. When one of the men’s actions escalates to assault, she struggles to find the strength and courage to report it.

When she finally does, will the outcome harm her even more?

The story, a fictional composite based on real accounts in our research, is agonizingly familiar. The outcome is often worse. When sexual harassment and assault occur in the context of an institution – a school, the military, a workplace – the behavior of institutional leaders can become a powerful force in how the victim fares.

From Susan Fowler’s poor treatment by Uber’s human resources department to the silence of non-abusive men in Harvey Weinstein’s orbit, our most powerful institutions often act without courage.

Over 25 years, my students and others have amassed a substantial body of empirical work revealing the real psychological and physical harm that institutions can do to those they betray.

However, if institutions want to do the hard work, they can help victims and prevent violence in the first place – by choosing courage instead of betrayal.

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 institution does to those who depend upon it. This betrayal can take the form of overt policies or behaviors, such as discriminatory rules or genocide.

Harm can also mean failing to do that 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 percent of college student participants who were sexually victimized in an institutional 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 medical resident’s issues in our 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 symptoms 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 institutional 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.

Institutional courage

What can we do to prevent and address institutional betrayal? The antidote is something my colleagues and I call “institutional courage.”

The details of institutional courage depend to some extent on the type of institution involved, but there are 10 general principles that can apply across most institutions.

1. Comply with criminal laws and civil rights codes.

Go beyond mere compliance. Avoid a check-box approach by stretching beyond minimal standards of compliance and reach for excellence in non-violence and equity.

2. Respond sensitively to victim disclosures.

Avoid cruel responses that blame and attack the victim. Even well-meaning responses can be harmful by, for instance, taking control away from the victim or by minimizing the harm. Better listening skills can also help institutions respond sensitively.

3. Bear witness, be accountable and apologize.

Create ways for individuals to discuss what happened to them. This includes being accountable for mistakes and apologizing when appropriate.

4. Cherish the whistleblower.

Those who raise uncomfortable truths are potentially the best friends of an institution. Once people in power have been notified about a problem, they can take steps to correct it. Encourage whistleblowing through incentives like awards and salary boosts.

5. Engage in a self-study.

Institutions should make a regular practice of asking themselves if they are promoting institutional betrayal. Focus groups and committees charged with regular monitoring can make all the difference.

6. Conduct anonymous surveys.

Well-done anonymous surveys are a powerful tool for disrupting institutional betrayal. Employ experts in sexual violence measurement, use the best techniques to get meaningful data, provide a summary of the results and talk openly about the findings. This will inspire trust and repair.

We developed a tool called the Institutional Betrayal Questionnaire. First published in 2013, the questionnaire probes a company’s employer-employee work environment to assess vulnerability to potential problems, the ease or difficulty of reporting such issues and how complaints are processed and handled.

7. Make sure leadership is educated about research on sexual violence and related trauma.

Teach about concepts and research on sexual violence and institutional betrayal. Use the research to create policies that prevent further harm to victims of harassment and assault.

8. Be transparent about data and policy.

Sexual violence thrives in secrecy. While privacy for individuals must be respected, aggregate data, policies and processes should be open to public input and scrutiny.

9. Use the power of your company to address the societal problem.

For instance, if you’re at a research or educational institution, then produce and disseminate knowledge about sexual violence. If you are in the entertainment industry, make documentaries and films. Find a way to use your product to help end sexual violence.

10. Commit resources to steps 1 through 9.

The ConversationGood intentions are a good starting place, but staff, money and time need to be dedicated to make this happen. As Joe Biden once said: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”

Jennifer J. Freyd, Professor of Psychology, University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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We’re looking at you @StateDept!  The  Institutional Betrayal Questionnaire (IBQ) and the Institutional Betrayal and Support Questionnaire (IBSQ) are both available through Creative Commons.

 

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@StateDept Task Force For New Sexual Assault FAM Guidance – An Update

Posted: 12:57 am ET
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We’ve written about nine blogposts on sexual assaults and/or lack of clear sexual assault reporting guidance in the Foreign Service since August this year (see links below).   On November 22, the State Department finally directed a task force to create a new section in the Foreign Affairs Manual for sexual assault (see U/S For Management Directs Task Force to Create New Sexual Assault FAM Guidance).

Mindful that there are 35 days to go before a new administration takes office, we requested an update on the task force convened by “M” to craft the sexual assault guidance in the FAM.

A State Department spox sent us the following:

“The Department is committed to the work the taskforce is doing to create a sexual assault section for the FAM, work that will continue past inauguration day. Currently, the Department has policies and procedures relating to sexual harassment and workplace violence. Employees and their family members can receive assistance and advice from MED, DS and S/OCR on these issues.

 The taskforce is initially focused on establishing FAM definitions and will then build out the program, communications and training. The group has met with Peace Corps and will soon meet with DOD to understand what each has done on this issue. Both of those agencies dedicated several years to building their programs.

The taskforce includes members from MED, HR/ER and HR/DGHR, M staff and M/PRI, DS/DO/OSI and DS front office, S/OCR, and L. The group has also heard from a number of diplomatic community members at post who were eager to contribute ideas and offer feedback throughout the process. The group welcomes this contribution and feedback.”

 

So 35 days to go but we already know that the new guidance will not be ready until after January 20. We are pleased to hear that the taskforce is consulting with both DOD and Peace Corps who each has its separate reporting mechanism.  We are certain that the bureaucracy will continue to grind despite the transition but we do not want this to fall through the cracks.  If you are a member of the Foreign Service who provided feedback to this taskforce, and if you are a member of the FS community who considers an assault on one as an assault on all, you’ve got to keep asking until this gets done.

The Department’s Anti-Harassment Program is managed by the S/OCR, an office that reports directly to the Secretary of State. It conducts inquiries into allegations of sexual and discriminatory harassment in the Department.  It is not the appropriate office to handle sexual assault crimes. To initiate the EEO complaint process, regulations require that employees contact S/OCR or an EEO counselor within 45 calendar days of the alleged discriminatory act in order to preserve the right to file a formal complaint of discrimination with S/OCR. Email: socr_direct@state.gov.

The Department’s policy on workplace violence is governed by 3 FAM 4150, last updated in April 2012.

workplacev

Under Employees’ Responsibilities, the FAM provides the following guidance:

In the event of an immediately threatening or violent situation, all Department of State employees should:

(1) If the incident takes place in the United States, call 911 when there is an injury or an immediate risk of injury in the workplace;

(2) Alert the appropriate law enforcement or security office at his or her location when there is risk to his or her safety or the safety of others, injury, or immediate risk of injury. In the Washington, DC area dial extension 7-9111 or the appropriate telephone number for the law enforcement or security office at his or her location;

(3) Immediately report threatening or violent behavior to supervisors after securing emergency medical assistance as needed;

(4) Move to a safe area away from the individual(s) making threats or exhibiting violent behavior. Do not confront the individual or individual(s); and

(5) Take all threats and acts of violence seriously.

A close reading of this section on workplace violence, makes one think that perhaps the drafters were thinking of an employee “going postal”. This certainly provides no guidance for victims of sexual assault.  “Take all threats and acts of violence seriously,” of course, doesn’t make sense when one contemplates about a colleague who is also a rapist. It’s important to note that approximately 3 out of 4 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim; that “friend” or “buddy” is not going to threaten you that he’s going to assault or rape you before he commits the crime.

The workplace violence section has more guidance on what to do with an employee exhibiting violent behavior than what to do with the victims. Immediate actions recommended include review of “whether an independent medical exam should be offered” to the violent employee. Short-term and long-term responses include administrative leave; counseling from supervisor or higher management official; appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including separation; curtailment; and/or medical evacuation. All focused on the perpetrator of workplace violence.

Yes, the Department has policies and procedures relating to sexual harassment and workplace violence; and you can see that they are sorely lacking when it comes to addressing sexual assaults.

 

Sexual Assault Related posts:

 

 

 

Sexual Violence: Why Is a Consistent Definition Important? Attn: @StateDept Task Force

Posted: 12:41 am ET
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Via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Why Is a Consistent Definition Important?

A consistent definition is needed to monitor the prevalence of sexual violence and examine trends over time. In addition, a consistent definition helps in determining the magnitude of sexual violence and aids in comparing the problem across jurisdictions. Consistency allows researchers to measure risk and protective factors for victimization in a uniform manner. This ultimately informs prevention and intervention efforts.

Sexual violence is defined as a sexual act committed against someone without that person’s freely given consent.  Sexual violence is divided into the following types:

  • Completed or attempted forced penetration of a victim
  • Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated penetration of a victim
  • Completed or attempted forced acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
  • Completed or attempted alcohol/drug-facilitated acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else
  • Non-physically forced penetration which occurs after a person is pressured verbally or through intimidation or misuse of authority to consent or acquiesce
  • Unwanted sexual contact
  • Non-contact unwanted sexual experiences

Completed or attempted forced penetration of a victim ─ includes completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal insertion through use of physical force or threats to bring physical harm toward or against the victim. Examples include

  • Pinning the victim’s arms
  • Using one’s body weight to prevent movement or escape
  • Use of a weapon or threats of weapon use
  • Assaulting the victim

Completed or attempted alcohol or drug-facilitated penetration of a victim ─ includes completed or attempted unwanted vaginal (for women), oral, or anal insertion when the victim was unable to consent because he or she was too intoxicated (e.g., incapacitation, lack of consciousness, or lack of awareness) through voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs.

Completed or attempted forced acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else ─ includes situations when the victim was made, or there was an attempt to make the victim, sexually penetrate a perpetrator or someone else without the victim’s consent because the victim was physically forced or threatened with physical harm. Examples include

  • Pinning the victim’s arms
  • Using one’s body weight to prevent movement or escape
  • Use of a weapon or threats of weapon use
  • Assaulting the victim

Completed or attempted alcohol or drug-facilitated acts in which a victim is made to penetrate a perpetrator or someone else ─includes situations when the victim was made, or there was an attempt to make the victim, sexually penetrate a perpetrator or someone else without the victim’s consent because the victim was unable to consent because he or she was too intoxicated (e.g., incapacitation, lack of consciousness, or lack of awareness) through voluntary or involuntary use of alcohol or drugs.

Nonphysically forced penetration which occurs after a person is pressured verbally, or through intimidation or misuse of authority, to consent or submit to being penetrated – examples include being worn down by someone who repeatedly asked for sex or showed they were unhappy; feeling pressured by being lied to, or being told promises that were untrue; having someone threaten to end a relationship or spread rumors; and sexual pressure by use of influence or authority.

Unwanted sexual contact – intentional touching, either directly or through the clothing, of the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person without his or her consent, or of a person who is unable to consent or refuse. Unwanted sexual contact can be perpetrated against a person or by making a person touch the perpetrator. Unwanted sexual contact could be referred to as “sexual harassment” in some contexts, such as a school or workplace.

Noncontact unwanted sexual experiences – does not include physical contact of a sexual nature between the perpetrator and the victim. This occurs against a person without his or her consent, or against a person who is unable to consent or refuse. Some acts of non-contact unwanted sexual experiences occur without the victim’s knowledge. This type of sexual violence can occur in many different settings, such as school, the workplace, in public, or through technology. Examples include unwanted exposure to pornography or verbal sexual harassment (e.g., making sexual comments).


Reference

Basile KC, Smith SG, Breiding MJ, Black MC, Mahendra RR. Sexual Violence Surveillance: Uniform Definitions and Recommended Data Elements, Version 2.0. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2014.

 

Sexual Assault Related posts:

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A Sexual Assault Reporting Process Foreign Service Members Deserve: If Not Now, When? Attn: @JohnKerry #16days

Posted: 2:13 am ET
Updated: 11:47 am PT
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For victims/survivors of sexual assault, please see Sexual Assault in the Foreign Service — What To Do?  Consider below as a follow-up post to The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief.

The following is provided for general information that is intended, but not guaranteed, to be correct and up-to-date. Please do not consider the following legal advice as we are not lawyers; read the full necessary disclaimer below.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) has the following sexual violence statistics:

  • On average, there are 288,820 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States
  • Ages 12-34 are the highest risk years for rape and sexual assault
  • 90% of adult rape victims are female
  • 94% of women who are raped experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms during the two weeks following the rape.
  • 30% of women report PTSD symptoms 9 months after the rape.
  • 33% of women who are raped contemplate suicide.
  • The majority of perpetrators are someone known to the victim. Approximately 3 out of 4 of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim

Rape notification rates differ depending on whether the victim know the perpetrator — those who knew a perpetrator were often less likely to report the crime, according to RAINN. A report (PDF) published by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center says that many survivors experience great difficulty in disclosing a sexual assault, especially when the perpetrator is known to the victim. The study is focused on rural America where “the propensity to not report may be reinforced by informal social codes that dictate privacy and maintaining family reputation. Sexual assaults in rural areas are mostly hidden crimes, hidden both intentionally and unintentionally by characteristics of a close-knit culture or an isolated lifestyle.”  Rural communities like small towns as places where “everybody knows everybody.” Sounds familiar?

A victim will have little anonymity. It means she, or a friend or family member is likely to be acquainted with or related to the perpetrator and that she may reencounter the perpetrator, even on a regular basis. Furthermore, “the closer the relationship between victim and assailant, the less likely the woman is to report the crime” (Hunter, Burns-Smith, Walsh, 1996). Studies have quite consistently pointed to the importance of the victim-offender relationship in affecting the propensity to report (Pollard, 1995; Ruback, 1993, Ruback & Ménard, 2001). In rural areas, law enforcement is likely to be part of the social network (Sims, 1988; Weisheit, Wells & Falcone, 1994; Weisheit, Wells & Falcome, 1995). This compounds the problem of reporting non-stranger sexual assaults.

We need to point out that in the Foreign Service, particularly overseas, Diplomatic Security law enforcement –as in rural communities and small towns — is part of the social network.

We should also note that a 2002 study by Lisak-Miller indicates (PDF) that a majority of the undetected rapists were repeat rapists. The repeat rapists averaged 5.8 rapes each.

According to the Callisto Project, which provides survivors with a confidential and secure way to create a time-stamped record of an assault in American campuses less than 10% of survivors will ever report their assault. Survivors wait an average of 11 months to report their assault to authorities and up to 90% of assaults are committed by repeat perpetrators.  Callisto’s CEO Jess Ladd told us that someday she would like to make available their product within other institutions (including companies and agencies) and to have a free version that anyone can use to store what happened.  But Callisto is not there yet.


Foreign Service Victims’ Concerns

Among the concerns we’ve heard so far are: 1) lack of clear reporting process, 2) confidentiality, 3) sexual assault response training, 4) potential conflict/undue pressure on investigators/managers who may be friends, colleague, or subordinates of perpetrators, and 5) lack of sexual assault data.

As we’re written here previously DOD and Peace Corps provide restricted and unrestricted reporting for victims, but that does not appear to be the case in the Foreign Service.  The State Department has over 275 posts in about 180 countries. The agency’s Diplomatic Security has Regional Security Offices in most locations but not all.  The State Department has previously told this blog that Diplomatic Security’s Office of Special Investigations  “receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.” Which begs the question, how will the State Department know if it has sexual predators living among its various communities particularly overseas if it does not track these types of offenses?

Due to the lack of clear reporting process — except “report to RSO” or “contact OSI,” victims (as well as this blog) have no way to independently assess what reporting entails. We don’t know what kind of confidentiality is afforded the victims. Among other concerns and questions:

  • When we asked an FS assault victim if there is any good option for reporting sexual assault, we were told bluntly, “There is no good option. That’s what the predator knows.” 
  • When a victim reports to RSO overseas, we know that the RSO is supposed to contact State/OSI, but who else has access to that information?   Embassy/post leadership? Which officials in the embassy hierarchy?  Will the local Health Unit be informed? The CLO? State/MED? DS Command Center?  And will reporting victims be informed in advanced who their information will be shared with and the specific reason for sharing their information?
  • Do DS/OSI investigators travel to the location of the assault to investigate? Time and evidence collection are of the essence in sexual assault reporting.  If yes, how quickly?  Is there a have rapid response team? What should the victim do while waiting for the arrival of DS/OSI investigators? Not shower? Not go to work?
  • In countries where sexual assault victims are jailed for “promiscuity”, what is the State Department’s policy and recommendation to someone assaulted in a place where requesting a rape kit means going to jail? Would the Department work with local authorities to actually protect the victim from prosecution while DS investigates or would they just allow an already traumatized victim to get PNG’d and force them to pack up and leave?
  • How will the victim’s report be transmitted to DS/OSI? Via unclassified email? Via fax? Via phone? In the case of emails, what restricts that information from being forwarded with a click of a mouse, or the record being compromised intentionally or unintentionally?
  • How are victims’ reporting records protected?  What are the consequences for an employee/s with access to the victim’s report who shares it with an unauthorized entity or individual? What if it is shared with a colleague, or a friends, or a family member?
  • What kind of training do RSOs get to enable them to assist sexual assault victims overseas? “Does every single RSO in the world know a designated medical facility to process a rape kit?” Or for that matter, do Health Units at overseas posts even have this information available?
  • Victims who report to RSO or DS/OSI would like to know if the officers receiving their sexual assault reports represent the victims’ interests or State Department interests?
  • What support is available to victims? What can victims expect after they report their assaults?  What consequences will their reporting have on their medical clearance and assignments? What kind of work accommodation will be extended to them, if needed? Who will be their effective has the responsibility to advocate for them if they need to file workers’ comp from the Department of Labor?
  • How are perpetrators — who are not strangers — handled by the State Department?  This is not a hypothetical question.  An OIG investigation indicates that one security officer’s alleged sexual misconduct spanned 10 years and 7 posts.  In that case, the Department never attempted to remove the RSO from Department work environments where the RSO could potentially harm other employees.  DS agents investigating the 2011 allegations reported to DS management, in October 2011, that they had gathered “overwhelming evidence” of the RSO’s culpability.  These agents encountered resistance from senior Department and DS managers as they continued to investigate the RSO’s suspected misconduct in 2011. The OIG found that the managers in question had personal relationships with the RSO.  Folks who work at the State Department should ask questions like who are these senior Department and DS managers who allowed this to happen for 10 years and 7 posts?  Do they have other friends that they have similarly protected? What happened to the victims at 7 posts? What support were available to them?  What responsibility does the State Department have for not removing that employee despite overwhelming evidence of culpability?


FOIA Diplomatic Security’s sexual assault cables?

As readers here know, there is no official guidance in the FAM on reporting sexual assault in the Foreign Service (see The State Dept’s Sexual Assault Reporting Procedure Appears to Be a Black Hole of Grief). We’ve requested the unclassified cables that were released by DS/OSI in 2015 and earlier this year on sexual assault reporting (15 State 71370;  15 State 79760;  and 16 STATE 5647all reportedly available at DS/OSI intranet). Since the information is unclassified and it could be useful information, we thought we could save time and money by requesting these through regular channels without having to FOIA them. We appreciate the efforts of those who were trying to obtain these for us through regular channels; we understand some folks worked through the weekend to attend to this requests. Thanks, folks!  Late Monday, we got word from a State Department spokesperson:

“Our thanks for your patience while the Department reviewed the practice of releasing State Department internal cables to members of the public or media. At this stage, a decision has been made that we are unable to release cables in this manner.”

Unbelievable! But it is what it is.  We need, therefore, to FOIA these unclassified cables. Given State’s FOIA processing record, we don’t expect to see these cables until 1-2-3-4 years down the road. We might be dead of heartbreak by then.


State/OIG Hotline and Office of Special Counsel

State/OIG has reiterated to us that that their office takes allegations of rape and sexual harassment very seriously and repeated the response they provided us back in August here.  Note that we have already been told that cases like this should not be reported to the OIG Hotline.  Read more here: Another Note About the Burn Bag–There’s No Easy Way of Doing This, Is There?.  State/OIG told us that Department employees who believe they have been subjected to whistleblower retaliation may contact OIG or the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). OIG can help the individual in understanding their rights and may investigate the retaliation, as well as alert the Department to any illegal reprisal.  State/OIG also said: “By no means do we want to discourage anyone from contacting our Hotline, but such a serious crime as a rape needs to be dealt with immediately and that’s why we recommend a call to local law enforcement.”

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