What is DARVO?

DARVO is an acronym that stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” It refers to the reaction often exhibited by perpetrators of criminal or unethical behavior, especially sexual offenders. One common frame is to allege that the perpetrator is actually the victim in the scenario, because of the other party’s false accusations. The other most common narrative also recasts the perp as the victim, and this time the other party is accused of carrying out the behavior themselves.

Often used against victims of sexual abuse, DARVO adds an additional component of psychological abuse to the record of injustices committed by abusers. The first stage of denial usually entails nasty rounds of gaslighting and aggressive smear campaigns against the abuse victim. Threats, extortion, blackmail, lawsuits, reputational damage, and more are common at this stage. The predator does not wish to be held to account for any of his terrible deeds, and he would also prefer to be free to keep committing them.

When DARVO is committed by an institution or with the complicity of one, the term institutional DARVO refers to this scaled-up form of abuse. A form of institutional betrayal, DARVO at scale breaches the public trust in our institutions and society itself.

From the domestic abuser to the cult leader to the Republicans in Congress, DARVO is a kind of Rosetta Stone to right-wing cultural warfare. It’s a useful and common strategy for the GOP because it fits seamlessly with their main policy agenda, which is to dehumanize the Democrats. It’s also a dangerous tell — that a disturbingly large percentage of the Republican caucus understands perfectly well the language of grooming and trafficking and feels comfortable using it confidently in public.

See also:

  • crocodile tears
  • tu quoque