A recent Knowledge@Wharton article highlighted a
psychological occurrence that takes place with victims of
Researchers of sexual violence have studied the
debilitating effects of abuse on people and organizations
in an attempt to reduce the incidence of these situations.
A preeminent researcher in the field is University of
Oregon psychology professor, Jennifer Freyd.
She has described the damaging psychological and physical
effects on victims when companies mishandle complaints.
In particular, she has described a betrayal trauma that
victims experience. Freyd notes that people are extremely
dependent creatures who put trust in parents and
institutions throughout their lives.
As such when the abuser is a trusted person, a survival
mechanism called betrayal blindness kicks in, which allows
the victim at first to not recognize the abuse. Freyd
even notes that perpetrators and witnesses often
experience this betrayal blindness.
Freyd also identifies a form of institutional betrayal,
which is a negative reaction when an assault is reported.
This negative response by the organization adds additional
trauma to the victim beyond the interpersonal violation.
Freyd sums it up with the comment that it often heard,
“The rape was bad, but what was even worse was how I was
treated after the rape occurred.”
Freyd gives some examples of such negative responses,
which may or may not be well-intentioned:
**Not acknowledging the abuse.
**Trying to reassure in order to minimize the issue such
as, “Oh that was so long ago.”
**Turning the discussion to the listener as a way to calm
or distract the abused person.
Freyd has identified a particularly pernicious response
that she has called DARVO (Deny, Attack, and Reverse
Victim and Offender). This is a technique most often used
by the perpetrator to show themselves as the “real” victim
Denying – “This never took place.
Attacking – “You are a disgusting human being.”
Reverse Roles – “I am the victim here.”
Unfortunately, DARVO works, according to Freyd. Abused
individuals who get DARVOed are more likely to blame
themselves for the assault. As interesting is the fact
that observers exposed to a DARVO situation begin to even
question the abused person’s credibility.
Freyd recommends a number of organization techniques to
eliminate DARVO and improve company responses to reported
#1 Be sure the business is following existing laws.
#2 Educate leaders about sexual violence and trauma.
#3 Teach all managers to be better listeners.
#4 Teach leaders to cherish the whistleblower.
#5 Conduct anonymous company surveys on sexual harassment
and institutional betrayal and be transparent with the
Finally, Freyd addressed the obvious management reaction
to accusations which is the phenomenon of false
Freyd noted that this has been studied extensively and the
rate “…is similar to any other kind of misbehavior,
typically under 10%.” As such because false claims can be
made, companies need to ensure that they have mechanisms
in place to address accusations thoroughly and
The full Wharton article can be found at the link below: