What is DARVO (and How Do Narcissists Use It)?

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An In-Depth Guide to DARVO for Sexual Assault Survivors

An In-Depth Guide to DARVO for Sexual Assault Survivors

Feb 8, 2024

Someone is victimized by sexual assault every 68 seconds in America. Moreover, a recent report issued by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimated that one in 71 men and one in five women would be raped at one point in their lives. Sadly, sexual violence is one of the least reported crimes.

What is DARVO (and How Do Narcissists Use It)?

Anti-Sexual violence nonprofit RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) confirms that only about 300 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means more than two out of three go unreported.

There are many reasons why people don’t report sexual abuse and assault. A Department of Justice analysis found that survivors cite the following reasons for not reporting an incident:

  • 20% of people are concerned about retaliation, not just by the perpetrator but also by society as a whole.
  • 13 % of respondents said that they do not believe the police will help.
  • 8% of respondents said that they did not consider the rape or assault important enough to report.

The Brennan Center report noted that sexual assault survivors are often plagued by a variety of emotions, which makes coming forward very difficult.

  • Fear of re-victimization
  • Falsification of allegations
  • Fear of not being believed

Victims often feel too ashamed to speak up. “Sexual assault is an act that can be humiliating and dehumanizing,” psychologist Beverly Engel explains.

Why do victims of sexual assault often blame themselves?

Sexual assault can be traumatic and have adverse effects on the survivor. Unfortunately, many survivors of sexual assault place the blame on themselves when an incident occurs. They often wonder if more could have been accomplished to prevent it.

[A]ttached with that shame are a lot self-blame[…] Because in our culture we tend to blame the victims in general,” Dr. Engle continues.

Media outlets and academic institutions have recently drawn attention to a response tactic that is often used by sexual predators to discredit survivors. Below, we explain the response known as DARVO.

What does DARVO stand for?

According to Jennifer J. Freyd PhD of the University of Oregon, DARVO is a response that perpetrators of wrongdoing, particularly sexual offenders, may show when they are held accountable for their actions.

DARVO stands for

  • Deny
  • Attack, and…
  • Reverse Victim and Offender

According to Dr. Freyd, the sexual perpetrator may deny the behavior. He or she might also attack the person who confronts them. Or, they could reverse the roles, making the offender the victim and the victim the offender.

Freyd wrote: “This happens, for example, when a guilty perpetrator takes on the role of the ‘falsely-accused’, attacks the credibility of the accuser, and accuses him of being the one who made the false accusation.

What are the stages of DARVO?

In the Deny stage, gaslighting often occurs. When using gaslighting as a tactic, with the sexual predator is often trying to “simply deny someone else’s lived reality,” a report from Metro UK said. Examples of this can include:

  • “No, that doesn’t happen”
  • “No, you’re making that up”
  • “That might have happened, (but it’s probably not as bad as you say it is)”

In the Attack stage, “the accused person will turn around the criticism to focus blame on the person calling them out. So let’s say a celebrity was called out by someone on Twitter – they might go into attack mode by accusing that person of just being jealous, or bitter, or a liar,” Metro UK said.

In the Reverse Victim and Offender stage, “things get sneaky and subtle,” Metro UK said.

“Suddenly, the accused person will turn things around and say that actually, they’re not guilty of doing something terrible. In fact, they are the ones being treated poorly.”

In this stage, you might see someone introduce their own trauma as an excuse or a distraction tactic. They’ll respond to accusations of racism, for example, with a story about how they faced gender discrimination when they were younger. Or they might focus their statement on how they feel ‘bullied’ by the accusations, so those reading feel that the person who has been called out is actually the victim, facing online abuse rather than being challenged on their actions,” Ellen Scott of Metro UK wrote.

Sierra Elise Hansen, in an opinion piece for the Michigan Daily referred to DARVO or being ‘DARVOed as the “number-one tactic of mental abusers.”

What does it mean to be DARVOed?

Cynthia Vialle Giancotti is a Graduate Dissertation fellow at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research. She wrote in December 2021, that DARVO tactics are “more common than you might think” and “prey on your lack of awareness.”

Stanford’s website published an article that noted:

A DARVO tactic is often used in cases of sexual misconduct, from mild to violent. The resolution of “he/she” scenarios depends on the victim’s credibility.

Researchers at the University of Oregon conducted a study to examine the public’s response to DARVO tactics being used by using an “experimental scenario depicting interpersonal violence.”

They found:

When DARVO is part of a vignette the subjects are more likely to question the victim’s reliability.

How does DARVO relate to narcissists or narcissistic personality disorder?

Research indicates that between 0.5% and 5% of Americans have narcissistic personality disorder, with men being more affected than women. As a controlling tactic, DARVO is commonly used by narcissists against victims of sexual violence.

DARVO… describes a manipulative tactic often used by abusers to avoid taking responsibility for their actions and shift the blame onto their victims,” said Avigail Lev, PsyD, founder of Bay Area CBT Center and CBTonline.

Most often, DARVO is used by narcissists or those with personality disorder in a emotionally abusive manner. It affects the mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being of family members, colleagues and friends who are affected by it. DARVO allows the abusers control the narrative, and avoid accountability for their actions.

“By denying their actions, attacking the person confronting them, and flipping the roles of victim and offender, the narcissist effectively redirects attention away from their own actions, often causing doubt in the victim’s claims,” said Bayu Prihandito, founder of Life Architekture.

The psychology behind DARVO is rooted in a strong need for self-preservation and control. They will often employ this strategy to protect their ego and maintain their desired self-image at all costs,” he added.
When abusers use DARVO tactics on their victims, they often get the desired results. People are less likely to believe a victim who is manipulated by DARVO methods. They also perceive the perpetrator as being less abusive and less responsible.

DARVO negatively impacts the victim’s mental health because they internalize the false narrative that they are the perpetrator and that the problems in the relationship or abuse are their fault. They convince themselves that they are the cause of their own mistreatment, leading to feelings of self-blame and self-doubt,” added Dr. Lev.

“Being subjected to repeated manipulation through DARVO can lead to – anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, self-doubt, a sense of powerlessness, and narcissistic abuse syndrome as well as pseudo identity/personality, where the victim develops a pseudo personality that echoes and repeats the narcissist’s false self- their grandiose narrative of themselves,” she said.

DARVO victims commonly experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Abuse can make victims feel isolated and helpless, especially if the abuser and victim are reversed. This often leads to a circle of abuse.

How common are false accusations of sexual assault?

False accusations of sexual assault are rare, even though legitimate cases are not reported. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center confirms, that false allegations of sexual assault and rape in the United States are between 2% to 10%.

The Brennan Center for Justice stated that “given these statistics we should do everything in our power” to remove social and structural barriers which can prevent survivors coming forward.

How to file a DARVO or sexual assault claim in California

In California, survivors of sexual assault have the right file civil lawsuits to seek financial compensation for damages. Civil lawsuits can help survivors get justice according to their own terms and ensure financial compensation for the harm they have suffered.

You can contact an attorney at Dordulian Law Group (DLG) to learn more about your legal options, whether you have been victimized by a rape, an act of sexual abuse or assault, sexual harassment, or any other type of sexual violence. DLG’s sexual violence lawyers are available to answer your questions and give you an overview of how long it will take for your case to be settled (and what the value may be).

In a civil case for sexual assault, damages can include:

  • Emotional trauma
  • Lost Wages
  • Diminished earning potential
  • Hospital or medical bills in the past and future
  • Pain and suffering
  • Psychological harm
  • Counseling or therapy costs

For a free, confidential consultation with an attorney from DLG Los Angeles regarding sexual assault, call us at 866-GO-SEE-SAM.

Select the Best Sexual Assault Attorneys to Handle your Case

Sam Dordulian, a former prosecutor for sex crimes and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, founded DLG. Dordulian has more than 25 years’ experience in sexual assault cases, including over 100 jury trials victories and settlements and verdicts in excess of $100,000 for clients. He and his dedicated SAJE Team (Sexual Assault Justice Experts) have maintained a 98% client case success rate.

Dordulian’s SAJE Team is a group of professionals dedicated to providing survivors with a supportive and unique form of expert legal representation. DLG offers survivors a four-tiered 24/7 support network during the entire legal process.

  • Tier I: Sam Dordulian and his team of proven sexual assault attorneys
  • Tier II: A clinical therapist licensed with at least 15 years’ experience in assisting survivors
  • Tier III: A licensed and accredited victim advocate who has dedicated their career to helping survivors of sexual violence
  • Tier IV: A Chief Investigator and former detective with more than 30 years’ experience as a retired LAPD officer specializing in sex crimes.

DLG can help you get the maximum compensation for a sexual assault claim. Our recent victories in court demonstrate our dedication, professionalism, and compassion for each client:

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

Are you a victim of DARVO? Are you ready to take action and pursue justice following a sexual assault or rape? DLG’s lawyers are ready to assist you in filing your claim and pursuing the maximum financial damages award.

To learn more, contact a DLG California sexual assault attorney at 866-GO-SEE-SAM today.

Go See Sam