Note: I normally try to avoid the term “accusations,” but in this case I think its use is valid. It’s meant to encompass times when a victim doesn’t file doesn’t file a formal report. Not all abuse is deemed illegal (i.e., psychological abuse, in most places) and not all illegal activity is reported.
As I watched R. Kelly’s very calculated meltdown during his interview with Gayle King for CBS, I instantly recognized his core behavior as DARVO.
From Jennifer J. Freyd, PhD:
DARVO refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for "Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender." The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim -- or the whistle blower -- into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of "falsely accused" and attacks the accuser's credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.
What makes R. Kelly’s appearance so disturbing is that it was exactly the persona he wanted presented. Supporters will say that his response is based in indignation, but it’s important to stress there are better ways to respond to abuse accusations than with DARVO.
From “R. Kelly Played the Victim—And It’s a Tactic We’ve Seen Before” in Flare:
Freyd explains that there are better ways to respond than DARVO.
“Let’s say the person believes that they’re innocent, or they really are innocent. Then, they’re going to deny it,” she says. “At that point, they can say, ‘Well, I’m very disturbed by this, I don’t have any recollection of doing this. I don’t believe I did these things, but these are very serious allegations and I need to understand what led this to happen. I hope we get a full investigation and everyone is treated with compassion and respect. This breaks my heart, but I know this is a serious matter and has to be dealt with in a very careful way.’”
She says while this type of response still denies the allegations, it doesn’t attack the credibility of everyone or “play the victim card,”
And there you have it folks, there are ways to respond to reports without attacking the victim, even if you think they are mistaken—or even being malicious. DARVO is gaslighting; it is meant to shut down the conversation through confusion. It’s meant to serve the gaslighting person and harm the other person.
DARVO exacerbates trauma and is inherently antithetical to healing. Since we can’t throw everyone away, it’s important to learn better ways for humans to interact with each other that minimizes harm for everyone. While the abuser may think accountability is harm, catering to their fears doesn’t hurt anyone—not even the abuser their self.