Date of Award

Summer 8-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Virginia Consortium Program in Clinical Psychology

Committee Director

Michelle L. Kelley

Committee Member

Andrew S. Franklin

Committee Member

Cathy Lau-Barraco


Military sexual assault is a serious and prevalent issue. The frequency with which military sexual assault occurs and the nature of the response to these events within the military system may contribute to institutional betrayal. Institutional betrayal is the failure of an institution, such as the military, to prevent sexual assault from occurring and/or the failure to support a survivor after sexual assault. Adaptive blindness strategies are forms of coping strategies that help individuals navigate a relationship they depend on when there is a betrayal. Two adaptive blindness strategies are self-blame and minimization. Although the adaptive blindness strategies may allow sexual assault survivors to navigate their experiences with sexual assault and institutional betrayal, it was predicted that both self-blame and minimization would be associated with more depressive symptoms and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Data were collected using an online survey of 153 female service members who endorsed military sexual assault. Self-blame had significant mediation effects on the relation between institutional betrayal for both depressive symptoms and PTSD symptoms suggesting it may act as an adaptive blindness strategy. In contrast, minimization did not mediate the association between institutional betrayal and mental health outcomes. In addition, variables that may possibly impact the utilization of adaptive blindness strategies, specifically, years served and unit support, were analyzed via moderation models. Years served in the military did not have significant moderation effects on the relation between institutional betrayal and the adaptive blindness strategies. Unit support did significantly moderate the association between institutional betrayal and minimization, specifically, more unit support was associated with increased minimization in response to institutional betrayal. Therefore, minimization may act as an adaptive blindness strategy under conditions of high unit support. These findings should be incorporated into our understanding of how women service members may respond to institutional betrayal regarding sexual assault thus informing Department of Defense’s policies and therapists’ conceptualization of women service members to provide culturally competent care. The findings also add support for the use of the betrayal trauma theory (Freyd, 1994) with the population of women service members.


The VIRGINIA CONSORTIUM PROGRAM IN CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY is a joint program of Eastern Virginia Medical School, Norfolk State University, and Old Dominion University.


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