DARVO is an acronym for "deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender". It is a common manipulation strategy of psychological abusers. The abuser denies the abuse ever took place, attacks the victim for attempting to hold the abuser accountable, and claims that they, the abuser, are actually the victim in the situation, thus reversing the reality of the victim and offender. This usually involves not just "playing the victim" but also victim blaming.
The acronym and the analysis it is based on are the work of the psychologist Jennifer Freyd, whose webpage links to an article explaining that the first stage of DARVO, denial, involves gaslighting.
Jennifer Freyd writes:
...I have observed that actual abusers threaten, bully and make a nightmare for anyone who holds them accountable or asks them to change their abusive behavior. This attack, intended to chill and terrify, typically includes threats of law suits, overt and covert attacks on the whistle-blower's credibility, and so on. The attack will often take the form of focusing on ridiculing the person who attempts to hold the offender accountable. [...] [T]he offender rapidly creates the impression that the abuser is the wronged one, while the victim or concerned observer is the offender. Figure and ground are completely reversed. [...] The offender is on the offense and the person attempting to hold the offender accountable is put on the defense.
Alleged examples of DARVO in public events include:
- The behaviour of R. Kelly during an interview related to criminal proceedings against him for sexual abuse of minors.
- The behaviour of former United States President Donald Trump in defending himself against sexual harassment allegations, as well as in defending himself against allegations of his other wrongdoings.
- Harvey Weinstein, in a 2017 interview, accusing his victims of gaslighting.
In popular media
In the 2019 episode Season Finale of South Park, Randy Marsh is arrested for destroying home-growers' marijuana. Randy calls President Garrison for legal advice. The President explains to him DARVO and role plays how to use it. When he attempts to do so, the policemen he tries it on inform him that the tactic won't work, as Randy is not the President.
- Freyd, J.J. (February 1997). "II. Violations of Power, Adaptive Blindness and Betrayal Trauma Theory" (PDF). Freyd Dynamics Lab, Department of Psychology, University of Oregon. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 1, 2020. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
- Harsey, Sarah (June 1, 2017). "Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame". Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. 26 (6): 644–663. doi:10.1080/10926771.2017.1320777.
- Wakefield, M. (March 30, 2020). "How Narcissists Use DARVO to Escape Accountability". Narcissistic Abuse Rehab. Archived from the original on January 10, 2021. Retrieved November 24, 2020.
- Freyd, J.J. (February 1997). "II. Violations of power, adaptive blindness, and betrayal trauma theory" (PDF). Feminism & Psychology. 7 (1): 22–32. doi:10.1177/0959353597071004. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 1, 2020. Retrieved January 14, 2020.
- Dampier, Cindy (March 7, 2019). "R. Kelly's CBS meltdown has a name, says researcher: 'That's DARVO'". Chicago Tribune. Archived from the original on March 31, 2019. Retrieved April 1, 2019.
- Fitzgerald, Louise F.; Freyd, Jennifer J. (December 20, 2017). "Trump's DARVO defense of harassment accusations". The Boston Globe. Archived from the original on May 8, 2020. Retrieved December 23, 2019.
- Freyd, Jennifer J. (2021). "What is DARVO?". University of Oregon. Retrieved July 8, 2021.
- Feuer, Alan (December 16, 2019). "Harvey Weinstein: 'My Work Has Been Forgotten.' Accusers Are Livid". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 3, 2021.
- "It's Called DARVO - South Park | South Park Studios US". South Park United States. Retrieved July 29, 2021.