What is 'DARVO', and how is it used to hide family violence?
Updated: Nov 8, 2022
DARVO stands for 'Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.'
The term was coined in 1997 by Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. DARVO refers to a reaction that perpetrators of family violence and other wrong-doing often display in response to being held accountable for their behaviour.
Darvo is used to escape accountability and is a regular feature of coercive and controlling behaviour. It is a gaslighting behaviour that twists the truth into a narrative that bears no semblance to what actually transpired. DARVO is a tactic used to both privately and publicly to discredit accusers.
DARVO is a regular feature of family law files where family violence is alleged, shifting the focus from the perpetrator's behaviours to those of the protective parent with devastating results for children and families. Cross allegations of alienation in the face of an allegation of family violence is a perfect example of DARVO at work.
People who are likely candidates for DARVO are:
• Survivors who confront their abuser.
• Socially vulnerable individuals or groups, e.g. women, are more likely to be targeted for
DARVO than men.
It may seem that DARVO would be easy to detect; however, perpetrators of coercive controlling behaviour use DARVO in underhanded and covert ways, and it is hard to see what they are doing. Studies show that 50% of DARVO victims themselves identified there was something profoundly unfair about what was happening to them but were not able to understand why.
DARVO is effective in creating confusion, guilt and shame for the victim. Research has shown that someone exposed to DARVO during a confrontation was more likely to feel a sense of self-blame at the end of the interaction. Further, observers presented with accounts of abuse followed by a DARVO response were less likely to believe the victim than a control group.
The sad reality is that DARVO works, especially in a society and family law system rife with inherent and effective barriers that foster a blind eye to the pandemic of family violence in physical and non-physical forms.
It is a blame-shifting tactic that we as mental health and family law professionals need to identify and understand to assist vulnerable families that turn to us for help.
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