How to Help Survivors Experiencing Domestic Violence
August 30, 2023
July 20, 2022Let's Talk About DARVO
DARVO is a common form of abuse that stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. This is a dangerous tactic used by abusers to avoid responsibility for their actions, confuse the issues in question, and attack a survivor’s credibility.
The term DARVO was originally coined by Jennifer Freyd in 1997 through her research on betrayal trauma. This form of coercive control is devastating for survivors of domestic violence – not only because of the toll it takes on them, but because of the lack of accountability assigned to abusers.
Unfortunately, most survivors on the receiving end of DARVO don’t recognize what is happening until it’s too late, which is why it’s so important to shed light on this type of gaslighting.
This form of abuse is often seen both during intimate partner violence (IPV) and during post-separation abuse. Since it is incredibly difficult for survivors and bystanders to identify the abuse without a prior understanding of DARVO, recognizing the signs may help survivors get a handle on what they’re experiencing.
Imagine you and your partner have kids together. You’re with your children 98% of the time and your partner is rarely available. You’re invited to your best friend’s milestone birthday celebration. It’s a month away, so you verbally coordinate scheduling with your partner and you add it to your shared calendar.
The day before the party, you remind your partner that you’ll be gone for a few hours and they’ll have to stay home with the kids.
Partner: “I have plans. I never said I would watch the kids.” [DENY]
You: “But we talked about it last month and you agreed. We added it to the calendar.”
Partner: “I never agreed to that. You’re crazy. You need to get your brain checked – we never had that conversation. Why would I agree to that?” [ATTACK]
You: “Because I never go out and you agreed I could have this one night to celebrate with my best friend. You said it wasn’t a problem. We had a whole conversation about it and you were fine with it.”
Partner: “I would never agree to that. You’re so selfish. You know I work long hours and I deserve the night out. You know Sunday is a football day.” [REVERSE VICTIM AND OFFENDER]
You: “I know how hard you work. Of course – you deserve time to yourself, too.”
Do you see what happened? It was sneaky.
Your partner is trying to convince you that you can’t trust your own memory and that you, in fact, are selfish and crazy. They are also trying to make you feel guilty and they’re trying to paint themselves as the victim.
DARVO is extremely dangerous for survivors because it truly makes them doubt their own reality.
DARVO tactics often play out in the legal system, as well. “High-conflict” divorces should more aptly be named “post-separation abuse” cases.
Often, the perpetrator engages in DARVO in order to discredit a survivor in front of a judge. It has also been used by legal teams to attack survivors in an effort to win cases for the perpetrators.
One way it can play out in court is by tapping into stereotypes and generalizations and using them against the survivor. For example:
Survivor’s lawyer: [displays pictures of injuries due to physical abuse]
Perpetrator’s lawyer: “This is not the full story. These images fail to capture what happened right before they were taken. [Survivor] initiated the argument. She started to get physical with my client. She is unwell. Her diagnosed depression and anxiety sent her into unprovoked fits of rage. She was having a breakdown and she attacked my client. He was only trying to defend himself. He was holding her back from causing more damage, and from injuring him. These past few years have been so difficult for him as he continues to support her.”
The more light that is shed on these abusive behaviors, the less power they have. Abusers and their legal teams are skilled manipulators and have proven successful at blame-shifting, discrediting survivors, and garnishing support as the victims.
Help is available. If you suspect you’re experiencing DARVO, call our free 24-hour domestic violence hotline at (727) 895-4912 or TTY: (727) 828-1269.
If it is not safe to call, you can reach a CASA advocate at www.casapinellas.org/chat.
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