In our last blog, we discussed how RZIM’s varied responses to allegations that Ravi Zacharias, a prized, powerful and lucrative member of their team who had sexually violated and abused multiple women during his life and ministry, were at first abusive and then later, after RZIM completely changed its approach, healing. Today, we describe what Institutional Abuse is and what measures institutions can put into place to prevent the harm that occurs through these institutional misdeeds.
Institutional Abuse is the mistreatment of a person from a system of power. The acts of harm can range widely from child abuse, elder abuse, sexual harassment or, physical or emotional domestic abuse. Often, this form of abuse takes place in institutions charged with housing children, the elderly, or others but that’s not all. Institutional abuse regularly happens in the the form of Double Abuse, especially where, like in the RZIM matter, an individual comes forward and discloses that a member of the institution’s leadership team is guilty of some form of abuse. Institutional abuse is a very powerful form of abuse and is extremely damaging to victims.
This is due in large part to the fact that institutions carry a significant weight of responsibility and power when they become informed of maltreatment or wrongdoing within the organization. They are regarded as authoritarian, professional and influential and therefore carry the ability to impact individuals and other institutions positively or harmfully. They are publicly perceived to carry high integrity, therefore victims carry a higher expectation that the institution will do the right thing. The disparity between this expectation and what actually occurs when there is Institutional Abuse significantly exacerbates the trauma the victim experiences. So, the potential for wide-reaching impact and influence within an institution itself and upon other individuals and outside organizations and institutions makes how an institution responds even more crucial. When an Institution has been informed of maltreatment and has verified it, in part or in full, it is incumbent upon the Institution to hold leadership to account, rectify the maltreatment, provide reparations to the victim commensurate to the harm done, and to take steps to make sure it never happens again. Unfortunately, however, Institutions often deny such abuse exists. Or they justify or minimize its effects. Other times they stall implementation of consequences upon the abusers and reparations to the victims through various avoidance actions, such as:
- taking time to educate the victimizer rather than to follow through on immediate consequences for them, thereby keeping the victim in a devalued, insignificant place and at the same time maintaining a cultural tolerance for abuse in the Institution;
- not disclosing or addressing the abuse in order to save the abuser’s reputation in fear of reprisals, jeopardizing employment standing, and/or protecting titles or status.
The more this Institutional Abuse and psychological trauma winds its way through the systems within the Institution, the more insidious and harmful the impact is on the victim. Institutional abuse and psychological trauma carried out in order to protect the abuser from taking responsibility and experiencing consequences, while delaying reparation to the victim, creates Double Abuse. When an institution allows Double Abuse to happen, the institution also becomes an abuser.