Behind closed doors: university employees as stakeholders in campus sexual violence

Published date09 October 2017
Date09 October 2017
AuthorMarina Rosenthal,Carly P. Smith,Jennifer J. Freyd
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Behind closed doors: university
employees as stakeholders in campus
sexual violence
Marina Rosenthal, Carly P. Smith and Jennifer J. Freyd
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine employeesexperiences of institutional betrayal after a
campus sexual assault.
Design/methodology/approach University employees completed online measures evaluating various
attitudes toward the university.
Findings The majority of participants reported institutional betrayal in the universitys response to the case.
Employees who reported institutional betrayal indicated significantly lower attachment to the university than
employees who reported no institutional betrayal. Institutional betrayal mediated the relationship between
institutional attachment and institutional forgiveness.
Social implications Universitiesfailure to respond effectively and promptly to sexual violence does not go
unnoticed by employees. Institutional actions after sexual assault have the power to damage employees
attachment to the university employees who experienced institutional betrayal were less attached, and
ultimately less forgiving of the institution. Universitiespoor prevention and response efforts impact their entire
campus community and compromise community membersongoing relationship with the school.
Originality/value College studentsactive resistance to sexual violence on campus is featured prominently
on the pages of major news outlets. Yet, less featured in research and media is the impact of campus sexual
assault on university employees, particularly after sexual assault cases are mishandled. This study offers
perspective on employeesexperiences and reactions after a prominent sexual assault case.
Keywords Prevention, Colleges and universities, Sexual assault, College sexual violence,
Institutional betrayal, Title IX
Paper type Research paper
The topic of sexual assault on college campuses has received increasing attention from media
in recent years. This upsurge in public awareness corresponds with an influx of students
alleging that thei r institutions mis handled reports of s exual assault (Pér ez-Peña, 2013). Media
and research teams a like have begun to des cribe these institu tional failures a s betrayals of
students who trust a nd depend upon the ir universities t o keep them safe (Sm ith and Freyd,
2013). Instituti onal betrayal has been conceptua lized as a transgression wherein a n institution
fails to protect its members or fails to respond supportively after members are harmed
(e.g. minimizing or denying sexual assaults on campus; Smith and Freyd, 2013). Reports of
poor institution al responses to sexua l violence have culm inated in Title IX a nd Clery Act
investigations a t the US federal level and in inter nal reviews and policy change s at the university
level (Pérez-Peña, 2013). While abundant research explores studentsexperiences of sexual
violence on campus (Smith and Freyd, 2013; Walsh et al., 2010), previous literature offers little
information about what university employees feel and believe in response to campus sexual
violence. Previous research has not explored the question of whether employees themselves
are impacted by stud ent sexual assaul t victimization . However, many e mployees remain on
campus for much longer than students; some spend decades observing and developing
opinions about ca mpus sexual viole nce and their univ ersitys respons e to such violence.
Employees may be a valuable source of information about how sexual violence on campus
affects community members beyond victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. The current study
Received 2 February 2017
Revised 28 April 2017
25 May 2017
Accepted 25 May 2017
Marina Rosenthal is a Doctoral
Candidate at the University of
Oregon, Eugene, Oregon,
Carly P. Smith is an Assistant
Professor at Pennsylvania State
University, State College,
Pennsylvania, USA.
Jennifer J. Freyd is a Professor
at the University of Oregon,
Eugene, Oregon, USA.
VOL. 9 NO. 4 2017, pp.290-304, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599 DOI 10.1108/JACPR-02-2017-0272

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