My Turn: DARVO demolition

  • J.M. Sorrell

Published: 10/5/2022 5:43:32 PM
Modified: 10/5/2022 5:39:15 PM

It is not a new strategy. DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender) was named by Dr. Jennifer Freyd in 1997. It may refer to the gaslighting that happens to individual rape and physical abuse victims or the groupthink in reactivity to large scale injustice.

First, a person or group denies the perpetration of a hostile or criminal act to set up the attack. “That’s crazy. I would never do that” or “There’s two sides to every story” may be used to get people to sympathize with the abuser. Then the switch is flipped in the form of an attack. “Why do you believe her” or “Antifa is just as dangerous as the Proud Boys” sets up the possibility that the perpetrator is being victimized.

As onlookers find themselves questioning the victim, the perpetrator exploits the doubt to reverse the victim and offender roles. The treasonous attack on our Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 —despite first-person testimony and plenty of video and audio proof — continues to be debated as a “witch hunt” rather than a dangerous, violent attack against law enforcement and our country.

Language is a potent influencer. DARVO was used when white, European invaders landed on the North and South American continents. They slaughtered Native peoples and destroyed their resources and cultures in the name of civilization and manifest destiny. They reversed the victim and offender descriptions.

As white, Christian-identified people lynched Black people during Jim Crow, they kept the horror going by creating the myth of defending themselves against dangerous predators; in fact, the largest demographic of predators in the United States has always been white men who rely on complicity from women and others.

When bias is revealed, DARVO comes to the rescue. The political and religious right claim that teaching children honest history and embracing a diverse society is harmful to them, so they use the term parental rights. Similarly, religious freedom is the choice phrase to defend bigotry of all sorts.

People in powerful corporate and government roles who seek to justify unbridled greed that results in harming large groups of people or the environment use DARVO effectively. How is it that people committed to saving our planet are “eco-terrorists” while those who cause the destruction are victims? When people defend their homeland against war-mongering imperialists, how is it that they are extremists and the imperialists are arbiters of democracy?

DARVO is the most common form of gaslighting against girls and women. When we experience verbal, physical or sexual violence, we are questioned for somehow provoking the behavior.

When we have the audacity to own our bodies and make personal reproductive choices, we are told that incest, rape or our own health are less relevant than being patriarchal incubators. Pro-choice leaders and activists have full-time work fighting the cruel narrative of anti-choice fanatics. Women and girls who need abortions are victimized by misogynist perpetrators who point the finger at them and abortion providers as offenders.

The transgender movement’s DARVO tactics against feminists are a deeply disturbing contribution to misogyny. On International Safe Abortion Day (Sept. 28), French women marched for abortion rights in Paris. Women representing the feminist organizations, L’Amazone and Osez Le Féminisme, led the march. They were physically and verbally attacked by transgender participants shouting “TERFS out of our struggle” as they grabbed and tore up the marchers’ signs. TERF is the pejorative phrase that stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Telling women their fight for abortion rights does not belong to them is bizarre and shameful.

UMass Amherst Professor Emerita Janice Raymond writes: “There is a deafening code of silence about the misogyny of trans activists and a painful lack of responses, especially from progressive men and women, to challenge rampant trans tyranny at women’s events and on social media. Too many bystanders are looking the other way and are allowing trans violence against women to spread, whether in words or in deeds” (from the book Doublethink: A Feminist Challenge to Transgenderism, 2021).

In the book, she cites horrific online torture, rape and murder threats hosted on social media outlets under the guise of free speech. “Yet they forcefully intervene when feminists post online to expose and counter the misogyny of trans activists, by censoring and cancelling gender critics’ accounts,” according to Raymond.

Innocent people do not use the DARVO technique. The over-exaggerated pattern of reversing the attack is used by perpetrators to deflect from the harm they have caused or intend to cause. DARVO is the opposite of taking responsibility for wrongdoings. In this upside-down world, it is becoming disconcertingly common while telling and believing the truth is rare.

J.M. Sorrell is a social justice activist/trainer and a feminist at her core.


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