Institutional Betrayal: Students' Experiences with Formally Reporting a College Sexual Assault
Nearly one in five U.S. college women will experience a sexual assault while enrolled in college (Cantor et al., 2015; Jordan et al., 2014; Muehlenhard et al., 2017; Zinzow et al., 2010). Following a sexual assault, many survivors experience negative mental health outcomes and adjustment issues, such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), heavy episodic drinking, suicidality, and poor academic performance (Eisenberg et al., 2016; Jordan et al., 2014; Littleton, 2010; Zinzow et al., 2010). The pervasive issue of sexual assault on college campuses prompted the Office for Civil Rights and then Vice President Joe Biden to issue the Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) in 2011. The DCL detailed specific guidelines for U.S. colleges and universities with regards to sexual assault prevention and response efforts, including designated “responsible employees,” or mandated reporters, who are obligated to report all instances of sexual violence to the campus Title IX Office. However, extant research has demonstrated that when college victims report their assaults, representatives from their university may respond inadequately or harmfully, such as by blaming them, not protecting them, and minimizing the assault. These experiences give rise to institutional betrayal, defined as the failure of an institution to adequately prevent or respond to wrongdoings that occur within that institution when an individual is dependent upon them (Smith & Freyd, 2013, 2017; Smith et al., 2016). Although prior research has found that victims of sexual assault who experience institutional betrayal may develop negative mental health outcomes, it is unclear which university resources or representatives are receiving disclosures of sexual assault, thus giving rise to betrayal experiences. Therefore, this thesis aimed to address current gaps in the literature by examining college women’s help-seeking from formal sources on their campus following a sexual assault, including the extent to which women experienced institutional betrayal when they sought help. Participants included 28 women who experienced a sexual assault while a college student and reported it to a university resource (e.g., confidential source, mandated reporter, Title IX/campus police). Participants were recruited via an email advertisement sent to all currently enrolled college women at East Carolina University (ECU) and completed an online survey of unwanted sexual experiences, campus resource use, and psychological adjustment. Further, participants provided narratives of their help-seeking experience and its impact on their well-being. Results suggested that college women who disclosed to a confidential source experienced greater institutional support and less institutional betrayal than those who reported to Title IX/ campus police. Additionally, experiences of institutional betrayal were found to predict symptoms of posttraumatic stress. Finally, review of victims’ help-seeking narratives revealed three broad themes (e.g., disclosure process, institutional response, and impact on well-being) each of which appeared to involve supportive or betraying experiences that arose from interactions with university resources. These findings suggest that college women who formally report their college sexual assault are at risk for experiencing institutional betrayal and developing negative mental health outcomes. Implications for these findings suggest that colleges and universities should strive to provide adequate sexual assault prevention and response efforts to reduce experiences of institutional betrayal.
Sall, Kayla. (November 2020). Institutional Betrayal: Students' Experiences with Formally Reporting a College Sexual Assault (Master's Thesis, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/8800.)
Sall, Kayla. Institutional Betrayal: Students' Experiences with Formally Reporting a College Sexual Assault. Master's Thesis. East Carolina University, November 2020. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/8800. January 15, 2021.
Sall, Kayla, “Institutional Betrayal: Students' Experiences with Formally Reporting a College Sexual Assault” (Master's Thesis., East Carolina University, November 2020).
Sall, Kayla. Institutional Betrayal: Students' Experiences with Formally Reporting a College Sexual Assault [Master's Thesis]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; November 2020.
East Carolina University