Trauma Systems Theory: Accountability for Recurrent Systemic Harm

72 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2020

Date Written: June 4, 2020


Trauma Systems Theory considers the trauma in systems and the limitations of the archetypal use of law and policy to address social problems through control. Why are traditional remedies and forms of accountability sometimes ineffective in altering the behavior of organizations and groups of organizations that cause harm? This article hypothesizes that some systems are triggered, meaning that they have experienced trauma and act out in destructive or self-destructive, trauma-responsive ways. Both conscious and unconscious cognitive aspects of the organizational mind are already recognized in law and policy. Trauma Systems Theory hypothesized addressing the non-cognitive, trauma-responsive aspects of systemic behavior. The goal is not to move harmful systems into a posture of victim; instead, the goal is to develop law and policy that produces lasting social change. Consideration of systemic trauma is not intended to excuse harmful behavior; instead, the goal is to find more effective ways of ending it.

Keywords: Trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences, ACE, Organizational Behavior, Systems Theory, Systemic Racism, Systemic Harm, Structural Racism, Social Justice

JEL Classification: I12, I14, I24, I25, I28, I38, K13, K14, K22, K23, K42, L14, L16, L21, L22, L51, M14, P1, P12

Suggested Citation

Cunningham, Christi, Trauma Systems Theory: Accountability for Recurrent Systemic Harm (June 4, 2020). Case Western Reserve Law Review, Vol. 71, No. 3, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Christi Cunningham (Contact Author)

Howard University School of Law ( email )

2900 Van Ness Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
United States

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