What is DARVO?

Jennifer J. Freyd, University of Oregon

Short Definition | Disclaimers |  History | Denial TypesFAQs

Short Definition

DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for "Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender." The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim -- or the whistle blower -- into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of "falsely accused" and attacks the accuser's credibility or even blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.

Current Events Update October 2016

Recent events have been remarkably illustrative of the pattern we see in DARVO. From some of my tweets about this, referencing a New York Times article:

And strikingly: "Trump on sex assault allegations: 'I am a victim'" (CNN reports)

More at @jjforegon



History of Terminology & Writings about DARVO

Jennifer Freyd introduced the term "DARVO" near the end of a 1997 publication about her primary research focus, "betrayal trauma theory." (For more on betrayal trauma theory, see http://pages.uoregon.edu/dynamic/jjf/defineBT.html.)

The reference for the 1997 article introducing the term is:

Freyd, J.J. (1997) Violations of power, adaptive blindness, and betrayal trauma theory. Feminism & Psychology, 7, 22-32.

In that paper Freyd explained that DARVO responses may be effective for perpetrators. "...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..... [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." (Freyd, 1997, p 29-30)

These ideas were further developed in an article by Veldhuis and Freyd (1999):

Veldhuis, C. B., & Freyd, J. J. (1999). Groomed for silence, groomed for betrayal. In M. Rivera (Ed.), Fragment by Fragment: Feminist Perspectives on Memory and Child Sexual Abuse (pp. 253-282). Charlottetown, PEI Canada: Gynergy Books.

In the 1999 article Veldhuis and Freyd explore the separate components of DARVO, and they also note a connection between DARVO and "betrayal blindness," a concept from betrayal trauma theory (Freyd, 1996).

"By denying, attacking and reversing perpetrators into victims, reality gets even more confusing and unspeakable for the real victim. .... These perpetrator reactions increase the need for betrayal blindness. If the victim does speak out and gets this level of attack, she quickly gets the idea that silence is safer." (Veldhuis & Freyd, 1999. p 274).

Since then the concept of DARVO has appeared in various writings, the most significant of which is our new book Blind to Betrayal (Freyd & Birrell, 2013).

blind to betrayal Freyd, J.J.& Birrell, P.J. (2013).  Blind to Betrayal.  John Wiley & Sons. 

In Blind to Betrayal we urge institutions to cherish the whistle blower (see p. 173) and we offer suggestions for specific steps institutions can take to prevent and repair institutional betrayal. In Blind to Betrayal we also talk about institutional denial which plays such a crucial role in institutional betrayal. DARVO is a particularly pernicious form of denial (see p 119 of Blind to Betrayal).

The first empirical research specifically testing the concept of DARVO is completed and the manuscript report is under review (Harsey, Zurbriggen, & Freyd, under review). A poster version of this research will be presented in August 2016:

Harsey, S.J., Zurbriggen, E.L., & Freyd, J.J. (2016, August). Perpetrator responses to victim confrontation: DARVO and victim self-blame. Poster to be presented at the Annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, Denver, CO, 4-7 August 2016.

Two Common Types of Denial

Two common forms of perpetrator (or bystander) denial are:

  1. It didn't happen (an instance) or It rarely happens (a type of event)
  2. It wasn't harmful

Put together they can take the form: "It didn't happen, but if it did, it wasn't that bad" or "It rarely happens, but when it does it isn't harmful." The two claims both serve to deny, but they depend upon different sorts of evidence. They may both be true, but they are sometimes somewhat suspicious when claimed simultaneously (or by the same person at different times), as for instance can occur in response to allegations of rape or child sexual abuse.


How do I cite this page?

Freyd, J.J. (2016). What is DARVO? Retrieved [today's date] from http://pages.uoregon.edu/dynamic/jjf/defineDARVO.html.

How do I get the articles mentioned on this page?

For full text links and additional books, articles, and presentations on betrayal trauma theory see: http://pages.uoregon.edu/dynamic/jjf/trauma.html.

What are some local pages related to this one?