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Jennifer Freyd, PhD, an ISTSS member, Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon, and national authority on betrayal and sexual abuse, took part in a White House event April 29 that included a major announcement about the effort to address sexual assaults on college campuses. Freyd and her students have pioneered the study of betrayal trauma and, more recently, institutional betrayal. She investigates the causes and effects of interpersonal and institutional violence on mental and physical health, behavior and society, and she co-authored the recent book Blind to Betrayal. Also noteworthy is the extent to which research published in the ISTSS journal, Journal of Traumatic Stress, has contributed to this effort which has brought together science, practice, and advocacy in a compelling and effective way.

In March, Freyd was first in the nation’s capital to discuss her research as it relates to the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, a group appointed by President Obama to improve the handling of campus sexual assault cases. She met with Lynn Rosenthal, the White House advisor on violence against women. During a 45-minute meeting, Freyd presented a summary of her research on campus sexual assault, including the results of a 2013 study on institutional betrayal, conducted with doctoral student Carly Parnitzke Smith, which appeared in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Freyd described the meeting as highly productive: “I was very pleased with how the meeting went. There was much information exchanged, good questions and thoughtful discussion … It is a wonderful experience to feel that our research matters in this way.”

Following that March visit, Freyd was then among the invited guests called to the White House on April 29 for the release of new proposed guidelines for combating sexual violence. The White House report calls on colleges and universities to step up their efforts to prevent such crimes, become more transparent about the number of sexual assaults, and do more to assist survivors. Also referenced in the White House report is another article published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, coauthored by Reginald Nixon, Pallavi Nishith, and Patricia Resick (2004).

Freyd followed the White House event with a meeting with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. She shared information about her research relevant to Gillibrand’s legislative agenda on military sexual trauma and campus sexual assault.

Freyd reports this about her experience at the White House event in April: “Each of those listed on the program (Rosenthal, Tchen, Cole, Duncan, Sebellius, Biden, and Jarrett) gave pointed and eloquent speeches. Except for Biden, the speeches were directed to those of us in the room. It was made abundantly clear that our expertise was respected and understood. We were spoken to as colleagues. At one point we were asked to stand (and receive applause) based on our role -- students, researchers, university presidents, and so on. Biden's speech, in contrast, was for the world. And a powerful speech it was. I stopped breathing a few times, he became so sincere and compelling. I was close enough to him to see when his eyes were on the teleprompter or not -- we went off script quite a few times and when he did those were generally the best moments. He only had one somersault of a sentence and he recovered quickly. His message about ending violence was respectful, passionate, and powerful.”


Freyd, J., & Birrell, P. (2013). Blind to betrayal: Why we fool ourselves we aren't being fooled. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Nixon, R. D., Nishith, P., & Resick, P. A. (2004). The accumulative effect of trauma exposure on short-term and delayed verbal memory in a treatment-seeking sample of female rape victims. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17(1), 31-35.  

Smith, C. P., & Freyd, J. J. (2013). Dangerous safe havens: Institutional betrayal exacerbates sexual trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 26(1), 119-124.