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Study: Students Who Report Sexual Assault Often Face 'Institutional Betrayal'

University of Oregon researchers have published a study showing that an institution’s response to a sexual assault can have a big effect on the victim’s mental health.

Students gather at PSU.

Students gather at PSU.

Courtesy PSU

U of O researchers Carly Smith and Jennifer Freyd conducted a random survey of 345 students at an unnamed Northwest university. Two-thirds of them had been victims of a sexual assault, or of an unwanted sexual experience.

The authors say those numbers are consistent with previous studies. The new finding is that nearly half of the students who had an unwanted encounter got an unhelpful or even punitive response. U of O professor Jennifer Freyd says those responses constitute a “betrayal” — and can cause further harm.

She explained, “What we found is the extent of that negative outcome was increased by ‘institutional betrayal.’ So, it exacerbated the negative impact of sexual trauma.”

And she says those students had higher rates of depression, anxiety, and dissociation.

The study is in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.