By P. Berman, K. Hecht, & A. Hysock
I must protect Davy, the Carsons, myself? Do I have to give Larry up?
Claire came out of her own head to hear Mrs. Carson say, “Larry will come home from prison and hurt Claire and Davy again, maybe even worse than before.” Back to the reality that the Carsons had no hope for Larry; Claire slumped even deeper into her chair, her face white, and her legs trembling.
“Claire, you look like you are overdosing right now, hearing the Carsons fears of Larry. You mentioned a few weeks back that Larry was more than the bad things he did to you and Davy on your last date. You have told us that Larry was your best friend and he was the one person in your childhood who protected you.” “Yes, he was,” Claire whispered.
“Could you tell us more about that,” Dr. Berman asked. (2-minute pause) Claire wanted this change in direction but what should she say? Everyone was silent, expectant, waiting for her- there seemed to be an endless pause. Claire looked desperately at Dr. Berman. “Take your time,” Dr. Berman whispered, “there is no need to rush, you have time, we are here to listen.”
Larry had helped her so many times, but Claire discarded most of her memories as being too painful for the Carsons to hear. But there must be something that wouldn’t overwhelm them… Claire remembered something small but clearly good. She looked up and said, “I wanted to find something that would help you understand the deep link between Larry and me. The first time I met Larry, I was in so much trouble, trying to defend myself but losing big time. I was in the bathroom hallway at school trying to get to the girls’ bathroom and two boys jumped me. One held me down while the other was
trying to get my pants off. I wanted to scream but no sound came out. Larry came out of the boys, bathroom room and saw what they were doing. He could have just walked by. He didn’t. He looked into my eyes; it was love at first sight. He began punching and the next thing I remembered, his warm hands were pulling my pants back on and he was helping me stand up.”
Claire had a small smile on her face as she remembered the moment. Then she looked around, and no one else was smiling.
I have done something wrong. I was sure this was the right story. Why aren’t they smiling?
“Claire, how terrified you must have been,” Dr. Berman said, “it is confusing to me that you can talk about something that must have been traumatic (pause) and be smiling.” (2-minute pause) “I don’t know. I wasn’t really thinking about those boys attacking me. For me, the story is how Larry became my hero,” Claire said softly.
Mrs. Carson was still thinking about the assault, “how could this have happened at school?” Surprised that they were still thinking about the other boys instead of Larry, Claire said, “Well, getting sexually harassed was an everyday thing at my school. I had seen those boys before, but they hadn’t ever tried to talk to me. (1-minute pause) They might have picked me because they knew I didn’t have friends and would be walking down the hall by myself?”
“Did you tell a teacher what had happened? Did the police arrest those boys,” Mr. Carson asked, feeling outraged that his daughter had been attacked at school. “No, (pause) it didn’t occur to me to tell a teacher. I guess my body was being hit all the time at home, I didn’t think it was that odd I was getting attacked at school.” Mrs. Carson was crying, Mr. Carson automatically handed her the tissue box.
“I am so sorry I upset you both. I didn’t mean to. I just wanted you to understand Larry better. Can you both see now, why Larry means so much to me?” Claire asked. Mr. Carson looked at his wife who was now crying heavily. He said, “Larry was a hero that day Claire. (I-minute pause) He came along and protected you when you really needed it. (2-minute pause) It is hard for me to say, but I am glad he was there that day.” Claire smiled at Mr. Carson, “thank you for saying that, it means so much to me.”
Dr. Berman asked, “You talked about attempted rape as standard harassment at your school. (pause) Do you think teachers might have helped you if they had known what happened?” Mrs. Carson interrupted anxiously, “If this had happened to me, I know I could have gotten help. (1-minute pause) What was wrong with that school?
Claire had liked her school. She didn’t think anything was wrong with it; it was just a typical school. Sure, she had been lonely, and sometimes bullied and harassed, but that was because she was one of those poor kids, the rejects of the school. No one really cared about this type of kid. “I always just thought of school as a good place for learning things. My teachers were nice to me in the classroom. (2-minute pause) But, they were never around outside of class. I mean they were never in the hallways or the lunchroom, or outside of school when we came and left. I guess I never considered it their job to watch out for me outside of class,” Claire said.
“Of course it is their job to keep you safe Claire,” Mr. Carson spit out, “All adults are supposed to keep kids safe.” Claire looked back and forth between the two Carsons. “Maybe if I had been one of the popular kids, the teachers might have helped out,” Claire said slowly, “but I don’t know, they always seemed to rush from the building to their cars to go home.”
“Claire, we have spent some time together talking about your parents, and how they didn’t know a thing about how to raise kids. One result of their neglect is that you didn’t recognize how much other adults, like your teachers also let you down. (2-minute pause) They didn’t recognize all your bumps and bruises as abuse. They should have reported your parents to someone like Ms. Alexandra. They should have seen you were being bullied and harassed and tried to stop it.”
Claire sighed, “I know you really believe that Dr. Berman. But, why should a teacher do all that much for me? Really, I am just not the kind of person that is worth the effort. (pause) I have told you before that I just believe the Carsons are my personal miracle- I know they care about me even though I don’t deserve it.”
Mrs. Carson was calm again, with Mr. Carson’s arm around her. She emphatically declared, “Claire, you are not a waste of space. You never were; no matter how many times your mom said it. That school betrayed your trust. The staff and teachers should have made it a safe place!” Dr. Berman was nodding and said, “when you go to a place that is supposed to be safe, like school, and the authorities don’t keep it safe, this is institutional betrayal.”
Professor and author Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D. first used the term “institutional betrayal” to discuss the harm caused to someone either because an institution did not set up a structure that would protect people from being victimized or did not take steps, after someone like Claire had been hurt, to properly investigate and take active steps to help the victim and prevent further victimizations. When schools don’t keep their hallways safe from different types of assault and harm to students, when the Church doesn’t protect altar boys from sexual abuse by Priests, when the police keep some neighborhoods safer than others, these are all examples of institutional betrayal. To prevent institutional betrayal, we all need to understand what it means and take proactive steps when necessary to make institutions develop new policies, procedures, and take actions to truly “serve and protect”. Consider learning more as a personal advocacy step by reading: