DARVO tactics explained

by Feb 21, 2023

DARVO tactics and process explained


DARVO tactics are part of a manipulative strategy to avoid accountability and maintain power and control, particularly in cases of abuse or other forms of harmful behavior.

Jennifer Freyd, PhD, a specialist in “institutional betrayal” coined the acronym D.A.R.V.O. to describe the “non-rational response to a complaint of psychological abuse (often in the sexual harassment context”) 

DARVO is an acronym that stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. It’s a concept that describes a pattern of response that offenders use to defend themselves and turn the tables on their accusers.

Although these tactics have always been around, (“she was asking for it,” or “look at what she was wearing”) it seems they are on the increase.


darvo tactics

DARVO process

DARVO tactics look something like this:

  • the accused person first denies that they have done anything wrong.
  • they attack their accuser by criticizing or blaming them, perhaps by pointing out their own flaws or accusing them of similar behavior.
  • they reverse the roles of victim and offender by portraying themselves as the true victim of the situation.
  • The accused presents the target as the one causing harm.

Rather than accept responsibility for their actions, bullies Deny their conduct and Attack the target. Victim blaming and shaming occurs. Offenders gaslight the target so they doubt their lived experience of their situation.

DARVO tactics are crazy-making.

They are part of a manipulative strategy to avoid accountability and maintain power and control, particularly in cases of abuse or other forms of harmful behavior.

It’s essential to recognize this pattern and not let it derail efforts to address wrongdoing and promote justice and recovery.

RVO Sequence

The RVO sequence refers to exaggerating any gaslighting so that the roles of Victim and Offender are Reversed over time to such an extent that the bully claims to be the victim.

We see this frequently in high-profile sexual abuse and harassment cases. Three stories in the U.K. media last week alone were:

  • When the police were criticised for not taking adequate action to find a missing woman they released her medical details, as if that may have played a role.
  • A woman and her daughter were murdered, but the media portrayed the anguish of a desperate man with an ambitious and successful wife, as though getting murdered was her fault.
  • Sex trafficker Andrew Tate is suing his rape victim for $300 million for defamation in an attempt to shut down her case against him. A form of economic and legal bullying.

Research shows that 80% of women who have experienced bullying in the workplace can go on to leave their organisation within two years. The offender, however, can go on to repeat offend as many as six times before action is taken by the employer, particularly if they are a “valuable jerk”.


darvo tactics


Filing a complaint

Bullying is defined as a pattern of aggressive or intimidating behaviour that is usually intentional (but not always) repeated, and involves an imbalance of power or strength. It can take many forms, including physical, psychological, verbal, online, or social. It can be perpetrated by an individual or a group.

It takes a huge amount of courage to file a report of workplace abuse, but there are some important key steps:

  1. Keep detailed records: Document the details of the bullying incidents, including the date, time, location, and what was said or done. Keep any emails, messages, or other evidence related to the bullying off-site and not on a company device. Note the names of anyone else present.
  2. Self-advocate: If circumstances allow deal with the person yourself, but frequently targets are so traumatised or ground down that they no longer have the energy. Maybe the offender is a boss. If there is any risk of physical violence report it directly to HR or even the police.
  3. Confide in a mentor or trusted colleague, supervisor, or HR representative: Explain the situation and provide them with the records you have gathered. If you feel uncomfortable reporting to your direct supervisor, you can approach HR directly. Do remember that HR work for the company and very often their responses are disappointing to targets.
  4. Follow company policy: Many organisations have clear guidelines for reporting bullying. Check the process carefully. If your company doesn’t have a policy on bullying and harassment, look into the legal situation of your geography.
  5. File a formal complaint: If the issue is not resolved or if the bullying continues, you should file a formal complaint with HR or your company’s legal department.
  6. Seek support: Bullying is a workplace trauma that can have a lingering impact.  Seek coaching, counselling, or other specialist support to help you cope. If necessary see a doctor and take medical leave to protect your long-term health


Learn to successfully speak up and self-advocate

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