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Jennifer J. Freyd Wins American Psychological Foundation 2024 Gold Medal Award for Impact in Psychology

The American Psychological Foundation of the American Psychological Association granted Dr. Jennifer J. Freyd the 2024 Gold Medal Award for Impact in Psychology, which recognises psychologists whose work is impactful, innovative, and transformational. Read full article here.

Professor Emerit Jennifer J. Freyd is a globally recognised and award-winning psychology researcher and educator whose innovative theories and empirical studies of trauma, betrayal and institutional responses to sexual violence have revolutionised the field of trauma psychology. Widely hailed as a hero for her courageous stance in support of victims and survivors of sexual violence, and in the advancement of gender equality, her work has influenced therapeutic approaches, policy frameworks, legal considerations and social attitudes. Dr. Freyd has been a scientist, feminist and activist throughout her career, which she has dedicated to making the world a more just and equitable place. In recognition of her extraordinary contribution to research and treatment of complex trauma, in April 2016, Dr. Freyd was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation.

Dr. Freyd’s most distinctive achievements have involved, firstly, the development of cutting edge theoretical and empirical insights into trauma and betrayal, and secondly, the translation of those findings into policy, practice and social transformation. Her seminal contributions include the development of the theory of betrayal trauma, a framework that illuminates the psychological consequences of betrayal by close individuals. Today, it is uncontroversial that memory recall can be disrupted for survivors of child sexual abuse, particularly where the abuser is a parent or caregiver. However, Dr. Freyd was a pivotal voice in the 1990s when high-profile figures within academic psychology were asserting that “false memories” of child sexual abuse were rampant, while denying the realities of memory disruption amongst sexual abuse survivors.


Dr. Freyd was among the first to name betrayal of trust, the actions or inaction of bystanders, as central to the psychological harms inflicted on survivors of violence and abuse. She identified this dynamic both on the interpersonal level of family and friendship and on the institutional level of government, business, education, and religion.

Betrayal Trauma

Dr. Freyd’s landmark book, Betrayal Trauma: The Logic of Forgetting Childhood Abuse (Harvard University Press), which has been cited almost 2,000 times, both detailed the existing research on trauma and memory and proposed betrayal trauma theory (BTT). Trained as a cognitive psychologist, Dr. Freyd was acutely aware that scientific theory and research could not explain why victims of child abuse would go on to have fragmented memories for the trauma they had experienced. This disruption of memory could include traumatic amnesia, or absence of memory for child abuse, which came to be known as repressed memories. In her book, Dr. Freyd reviewed the evidence, including longitudinal studies, showing that some adults who had been sexually abused in childhood (e.g., as confirmed by doctors, social workers, etc.) would have disruptions or absence of memory for the abuse in adulthood. Given that it is evolutionarily advantageous to remember traumatic events in order to protect oneself from them re-occurring in the future, Dr. Freyd proposed BTT as a scientifically testable, explanatory framework for disruptions to trauma memories. In BTT, Dr. Freyd proposed that the attachment and dependency that a child has on a parent, including an abusive parent, will trump the need to protect oneself from abuse. If a child is fully aware and mindful of the abuse they are experiencing, then the child would confront their parent or withdraw from the relationship with the parent. However, given attachment theory and the child depending on the parent for socio-emotional and physical needs (e.g., relational connection, housing, food), Dr. Freyd proposes through BTT that the child engages in betrayal blindness, or unawareness, of the abuse and/or the impact of the abuse. This facilitates the child’s needed relational closeness with the abusive parent.

When Dr. Freyd proposed BTT in the 1990’s, the veracity of child sexual abuse claims was under attack. Dr. Freyd’s BTT, and subsequent empirical research (see below section), provided the needed evidence to answer questions about trauma and memory, such as “If the sexual abuse really happened, how could you ever not remember it?” Betrayal trauma theory provides the scientifically sound answer.

In her career, Dr. Freyd has published over 200 articles and editorials and 3 books. Her early research testing BTT centered around trauma memory. Her work showed that after controlling for abuse perpetrated by a stranger, abuse perpetrated by someone close was statistically associated with disruptions in memory. Additionally, Dr. Freyd contributed methodological rigor to trauma measurement through co-developing the Betrayal Trauma Inventory and the Brief Betrayal Trauma Survey. Over almost 30 years, Dr. Freyd’s BTT research has expanded beyond trauma memory, producing empirical evidence for the ‘high betrayal’ harm of abuse perpetrated by someone close on mental, behavioural, and physical health outcomes.

Institutional Betrayal

Institutional betrayal applies the vulnerability of trust and dependence between individuals to people’s relationship with their institutions. The first article testing institutional betrayal (Smith & Freyd, 2013) has been cited 600 times, with the institutional betrayal theoretical article published in American Psychologist (Smith & Freyd, 2014) being cited 800 times. The institutional betrayal paradigm has engendered much published empirical research from independent authors, as well as special issues of journals (e.g., Institutional Betrayal & Betrayal Trauma in Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, & Trauma, Editor Geffner). Published in 7 languages, Freyd & Birrell’s book, Blind to Betrayal: Why We Fool Ourselves We Aren’t Being Fooled (cited 243 times), is a culmination of the betrayal trauma and institutional betrayal research for a general audience.

Institutional Courage

After decades of documenting the interpersonal and institutional harm of abuse and trauma, Dr. Freyd has expanded her work through proposing and testing her concept of institutional courage. Given that her and others’ work with institutional betrayal has shown the harm that institutions can do to victims, Dr. Freyd provides the antidote through institutional courage—which are measurable actions, policies, and procedures that promote equitable, peaceful environments that prevent and appropriately address violence, discrimination, and myriad other harms. Dr. Freyd’s contributions to institutional courage are both theoretical and empirical, producing research on specific mechanisms and strategies. Additionally, she is a leader in actionable institutional courage, including through founding the Center for Institutional Courage non-profit organisation, in which she has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to fund empirical research and dissemination. Thus, through Dr. Freyd’s leadership atop the decades of trauma research she has spearheaded, her direction in institutional courage serves to promote long-lasting, impactful, and evidence-based institutional change that can benefit all members of society.

Mentorship & Influence in Scholarship and Psychotherapy

In addition to the stand-alone contribution of BTT and its empirical evidence base, Dr. Freyd’s impact is demonstrated by the multitude of work that is based within the betrayal paradigm that she created: institutional betrayal (Smith & Freyd), family betrayal (Delker, Smith, Rosenthal, Bernstein, & Freyd), and colleague betrayal (Courtois), as well as my own work with rotating betrayal blindness (Noll & Gómez), judicial betrayal (Smith, Gómez, & Freyd), and cultural betrayal trauma theory (Gómez). Dr. Freyd’s work itself has been foundational. Additionally important was Dr. Freyd’s academic, scientific, and personal support in other scholars’ building upon her work. This point of support is important to fully appreciate. Dr. Freyd’s impact in the field comes from both her own trailblazing and impactful research, and her identity and behaviour as an ethical scholar and researcher who is not threatened by new work that builds and expands on her own—including those who are marginalised themselves and whose work incorporates marginalised populations (e.g., Dr. Gómez’ cultural betrayal trauma theory).

Dr. Freyd’s influence and acclaim within the field of trauma psychotherapy cannot be overlooked. Betrayal trauma has significant implications for clinical practice, guiding clinicians to recognise the specific challenges faced by survivors, and informing effective therapeutic interventions into relational disruption and traumatic amnesia. Her work is cited extensively throughout clinical treatment guidelines and scholarship.

Social Justice Impact

Since the 1990s, Dr. Freyd’s work has galvanised social movements for survivors of sexual violence, legitimised the efforts of therapists who were treating them, and informed civil and criminal court processes involving allegations of child sexual abuse and sexual assault. Her efforts were met with considerable resistance, and this backlash informed Dr. Freyd’s development of the world-famous concept of “DARVO” (deny, attack, reverse victims and offender) which describes the ways in which perpetrators of harm can adopt a victimised posture. DARVO is immensely influential across responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, child sexual abuse and beyond. It is so ubiquitous that it is has broken out beyond the bounds of scholarly discourse and is regularly used in the media and in pop culture. For instance, there was a 90 second explainer of DARVO presented in the globally popular South Park cartoon series in 2019.

Dr. Freyd’s advocacy and activism has included participation in protests for survivors of campus sexual violence, and numerous opinion pieces and media contributions to discussions of violence. Her work has become a core part of public understanding of sexual violence. In 2017, in a high profile interview with Diane Sawyer, actor and political activist Ashley Judge referred to Dr. Freyd’s concept of DARVO in order to explain the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. Dr. Freyd’s concept of institutional betrayal was showcased in an 8 minute Washington Post mini-documentary in 2018 to explain how sex offenders such as Harvey Weinstein are able to hide in plain sight.


Dr. Freyd’s scholarship is foundational to the contemporary response to gender-based violence. Her language of betrayal trauma, institutional betrayal and courage have become part of the professional and activist lexicon. Over her decades of service, she has furnished the field with the language, conceptual frameworks and research methodologies that we needed to advance the health and safety of women, children, and any group vulnerable to sexual violence. Her work is so globally impactful that it is difficult to single out only a couple of examples of impact because her influence is so pervasive.

For example, in Australia, the development of the National Strategy to Eliminate Violence Against Women and their Children drew on Dr. Freyd’s research to successfully advocate for including addressing the problem of institutional abuse in the next 10 year strategy, emphasising that systematic responses to sexual and domestic violence are causing compounded trauma in addition to the harms of gender-based violence. As a result, the National Strategy includes efforts to redesign of service systems and responses in order to reduce the public health burden of institutional betrayal. Dr. Freyd’s framework of institutional courage has provided us with the scaffolding to inform this redesign process.

Furthermore, Dr. Freyd’s formulation of betrayal trauma has played an influential role in public and legislative debate on domestic violence, sexual violence and coercive control. Television documentaries, newspaper and magazine coverage have included explanations of DARVO and betrayal trauma. Her work is featured in the National Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book of Australia, which assists in the education and training of judicial officers so as to promote best practice and improve consistency in judicial decision-making and court experiences for victims in cases involving domestic and family violence across Australia. Major state-funded primary prevention organisations dedicated to preventing gender-based violence before it occurs include resources about DARVO and betrayal on their websites and in their literature and training.

In the United States, Dr. Freyd secured a major win for gender equality in academic settings recently, with her successful sex discrimination lawsuit against the University of Oregon. After an independent review established that Dr. Freyd’s salary was considerably lower than her male colleagues of equivalent seniority, the University of Oregon refused to address this pay gap. Dr. Freyd filed suit in 2017 under The Equal Pay Act, Title VII, Title IX, and Oregon’s state sex discrimination statutes. In 2019, the court ruled in favour of the university, a decision which garnered national and international media attention and outrage. Prof Freyd successfully appealed the decision, setting an important precedent in sex discrimination matters. The university settled with Dr. Freyd in 2021, which included a $100,000 donation to Dr. Freyd’s initiative, the Center for Institutional Courage, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to scientific research, education, and data-driven action which Dr. Freyd founded in 2020.

In 2021, Dr. Freyd retired from the University of Oregon to dedicate her time to the Center for Institution Courage. The Center is a non-profit, 501(c)(3) institution dedicated to transformative research and education about institutional betrayal and how to counter it through institutional courage. Through the Center, Dr. Freyd has funded research into better responses to institutional wrongdoing, and established ethical and decision-making frameworks to inform institutional decision-making. This perspective has not only prompted critical discussions within academic circles but has also influenced policies and practices aimed at preventing and addressing institutional betrayal. Her policy impact is evident in appointments such as her membership of the Advisory Committee of the Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education, National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine from 2019 – 2023.

Righting Wrongs

It is not an overstatement to say that Dr. Freyd and her theoretical and rigorous empirical research over decades has transformed the field of trauma psychology (H-Index: 79, Citations: 22,629). Additionally, Dr. Freyd’s exemplary personal courage deserves recognition, as she has persisted in her work despite a well-orchestrated campaign of hostile attacks in the media. She has also stood up for survivors who dare to seek redress in the justice system through her forensic testimony as an expert witness. Many professionals avoid this kind of work because they do not want to be subjected to the stresses of an adversarial system. Her principled stance is an inspiration.

Despite having an unquestionably successful career, Dr. Freyd and her work remains under-recognised and underappreciated in mainstream psychology circles, including American Psychological Association. This is likely due to two interrelated reasons regarding child sexual abuse in her personal life and professional scientific inquiry. First, Dr. Freyd’s history of child sexual abuse by her father was made public, without her consent, by her parents, who additionally began the False Memory Syndrome Foundation in the United States in the 1990’s. This betrayal did not stay within the family. Many of Dr. Freyd’s academic colleagues, including psychologists, conspired with the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, engaging in a campaign of defamation and professional ostracisation that has persisted for decades, even as the Foundation has folded in 2019. While the overt attacks have lessened over time, the insidious ostracism and silence has remained.

Within the context of these sustained personal attacks on her professionality, Dr. Freyd’s scientific research amplifies the prevalence, scope, and deleterious impact of phenomena that we as a society would prefer to pretend does not exist: namely child sexual abuse, including father-perpetrated against daughters, along with interpersonal violence that occurs within all kinds of relationships— and even implicates the organisations that we love. It is no exaggeration to say that Dr. Freyd was grossly betrayed by academic psychology as a field, and yet she withstood these personal and professional attacks with extraordinary grace and patience. In the process, she transformed her personal experiences into cutting-edge academic insights, developing tools that have inspired researchers, clinicians and other survivors to the present day. The American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal Award for Impact in Psychology provides the opportunity for psychologists and other professionals—including those outside of feminist trauma psychology—to know of, appreciate, and value her and her work, while simultaneously truly honoring Dr. Freyd as the living legend that she is.

In deep appreciation of Dr. Jennifer J. Freyd,
Michael Salter, Jennifer M. Gómez, & Judith L. Herman