What is DARVO?

Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD

Professor Emerit of Psychology, University of Oregon
Founder and President, Center for Institutional Courage


Definition | Empirical Research | Press  | Disclaimers |  History | Denial TypesFAQs

Definition of DARVO

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 and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.

Institutional DARVO occurs when the DARVO is committed by an institution (or with institutional complicity) as when police charge rape victims with lying. Institutional DARVO is a pernicious form of institutional betrayal.

Anti-DARVO refers to both ways to reduce the negative impact of DARVO and also to teaching more constructive responses to allegations.


newNew DARVO research

Plenary Address



newDARVO, Defamation Lawsuits, and the Prosecution of Women Reporting Rape

DARVO & Defamation

From Defamation and DARVO:

Defamation lawsuits targeting abuse survivors tick all the DARVO boxes: by suing for defamation, those accused of abuse are collectively denying they are guilty of their behavior while asserting that any claims made against them are false (in most cases, individuals cannot be defamed by true statements). Alleged perpetrators who sue alleged victims for defamation often attack the mental competence and motivations of the defendant in the defamation lawsuit. Moreover, defamation lawsuits position the plaintiffs – i.e., the abusers – as victims harmed by libel or slander. This is the three-pronged DARVO response – deny, attack, reverse victim and offender – packaged in a lawsuit intended to intimidate, silence, and punish victims.

DARVO & Prosecution

From The Prosecution of Women Reporting Rape

In some cases in which rape victims are prosecuted after reporting their assaults, criminal justice systems commit a particularly egregious form of institutional betrayal by engaging in institutional “DARVO“—an acronym for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.


Theory & Empirical Research - Peer-Reviewed

Concept: DARVO was introduced in this peer-reviewed article:

Additional articles developed aspects of the relationship between DARVO, grooming, and betrayal trauma theory. (See section History of term on this page.)

Empirical research is more recent.

Peer-reviewed research: DARVO and Self-Blame (Harsey, Zurbriggen & Freyd, 2017)

In a 2017 peer-reviewed open-access research study, Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame, Harsey, Zurbriggen, & Freyd reported that: "(1) DARVO was commonly used by individuals who were confronted; (2) women were more likely to be exposed to DARVO than men during confrontations; (3) the three components of DARVO were positively correlated, supporting the theoretical construction of DARVO; and (4) higher levels of exposure to DARVO during a confrontation were associated with increased perceptions of self-blame among the confronters. These results provide evidence for the existence of DARVO as a perpetrator strategy and establish a relationship between DARVO exposure and feelings of self-blame. Exploring DARVO aids in understanding how perpetrators are able to enforce victims’ silence through the mechanism of self-blame."

Peer-reviewed research: Research: DARVO's impact on third parties and Anti-DARVO (Harsey & Freyd, 2020)

Sarah Harsey and I completed several experiments (Harsey & Freyd, 2020). In one experiment we presented participants with accounts of abuse followed by a DARVO response versus a control response. We found exposure to the DARVO response was associated with less belief of the victim and more blame of the victim. In another experiment in the same report Sarah Harsey and I examined whether learning about DARVO could mitigate its effects on individuals' perceptions of perpetrators and victims. DARVO-educated participants (compared with control) rated the perpetrator as less believable. While much more research is needed, these results suggest that DARVO is an effective strategy to discredit victims but that the power of the strategy can be mitigated by education.

Peer-reviewed research: Research: DARVO and college women's contact with their perpetrators after sexual assault (Rosenthal & Freyd, 2022)

This study explores the experiences of 89 women who were sexually assaulted during college, asking to what extent they experience continued exposure to their perpetrators, whether such contact includes patterns characteristic of DARVO, and how they perceive such contact. Most participants experienced some contact with their perpetrator after their assault, and nearly half indicated experiencing DARVO tactics from their perpetrator.

Peer-reviewed research: The Influence of DARVO and Insincere Apologies on Perceptions of Sexual Assault (Harsey & Freyd, in press)

This study measured the influence of DARVO and another manipulative tactic – insincere perpetrator apologies – on observers’ judgments of a victim and perpetrator in a fictional sexual violence scenario. Results were similar to Harsey & Freyd (2020) regarding the influence of DARVO while insincere apologies had minimal impact on ratings. By promoting distrust in victims and less punitive views of perpetrators, DARVO might contribute to rape-supporting outcomes like victim blaming, greater victim distress, and low rates of rape reporting and perpetrator prosecution.


DARVO Measurement Instruments


DARVO in the News (Selected Examples)




south park

WaPo with Freyd

In print and on-line (selected):

DARVO Illustrated:

Public 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)

For more see: Fitzgerald, L.F. & Freyd, J.J. (2017) Trump’s DARVO defense of harassment accusations. The Boston Globe, 20 December 2017.


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.)

Podcast: Sexual Violence & Institutional Courage

human centered


listenIn this Podcast: Sexual Violence & Institutional Courage - Jennifer Freyd, Host John Markoff speaks with Dr. Freyd about her career of groundbreaking research, from developing betrayal trauma theory to current work supporting institutional courage.

In the podcast Freyd also discusses what inspired her to develop the concept of DARVO.


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, including our 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 reports specifically testing the concept of DARVO are recently published (Harsey, Zurbriggen, & Freyd, 2017; Harsey & Freyd, 2020; Rosenthal & Freyd, 2022). See more about the research publications in the section on Empirical Research.