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What Is DARVO?

People who abuse use a number of different tactics to control and manipulate their victims. For example, gaslighting is often used to cause a victim to question their own perception of reality. Understanding how these strategies work can help you recognize them — and may even help you counter them.

One common tactic employed by people who abuse is known as DARVO, which stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. DARVO is a type of gaslighting, and is often used as a way to shame victims, and make them believe that they are responsible for the abuse.

When using DARVO, a person typically denies the behavior, attacks the individual who is confronting them, and reverses the roles of victim and offender. In this way, the perpetrator assumes the role of the victim — and the victim becomes the offender. The purpose of this strategy is to attack the credibility of the victim, to terrify the victim and their supporters, and to confuse the issues.

Consider this example of DARVO in action. A person is accused of rape. When they are confronted, they deny that a sexual assault occurred and claim that any sexual activity was consensual. They act outraged, painting themselves as the real victim. They claim that the victim is trying to get back at them after being rejected.

If this example seems familiar, it is because it is a relatively common response when a person is accused of sexual assault — denying that anything happened, and getting angry and accusing the victim of trying to ruin their lives. These sorts of attacks often include legal threats or even violence. It is often a common tactic used by people who engage in domestic violence — denying that anything happened, or if the abuse cannot be denied, arguing that it wasn’t harmful (“I barely touched you!”). The perpetrator may also come up with reasons why they engaged in that behavior that place all of the blame on the victim’s shoulders, such as “If you hadn’t been flirting with that man, I wouldn’t have gotten angry.”

Like other types of gaslighting, DARVO is often effective — and can cause a victim to blame themselves and question whether things really happened as they believed. Fortunately, awareness of what DARVO is and how it is used reduces the effectiveness of this tactic. To counter DARVO:

  1. Recognize what is happening. Is a person attacking their victim? Are they positioning themselves as the victim? If so, you may want to be wary of their claims.

  2. Refocus the conversation to the victim or survivor and their needs.

DARVO and other forms of gaslighting can be insidious, and can often make it harder to get help. If you are experiencing — or have experienced — any type of violence, including emotional abuse, we are here for you. Reach out anytime at 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available) to get help today. Calls to our hotline are free of charge, and can be anonymous.



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