DARVO isn't the only way to respond to abuse accusations

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.

How white evangelicals are okay with supporting sexual abusers like Roy Moore

In a normal world, multiple women coming forward to expose a man for sexually assaulting and preying on girls would destroy his career. In Trump’s America 2017, it means that the man’s supporters further dig in their heels to defend and vehemently support him.

Of course, I am talking about Alabama’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Roy Moore. In the weeks leading up to the election, I’ve seen many pleas to the basic humanity and dignity of potential voters to please not vote for Moore and put a pedophile in the U.S. Senate. I totally understand these pleas because I’d make them, too—if I thought they’d make a difference.

I’ve seen the widespread shock and horror over the unwavering support for Moore in spite of the allegations. Folks are even more stunned to see that white evangelicals have overwhelmingly stood behind this deplorable man even as reports about his history of sexually abusing piled on. At first glance, it looks like this would go against the Christian values that white evangelical voters claimed guides their decisions.

Now we know better. Check out this data via The Atlantic :

As recently as 2011, a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” But by the time Donald Trump was running for president in 2016, that number had risen sharply to 72 percent. White evangelicals are now more tolerant of immoral behavior by elected officials than the average American. “This is really a sea change in evangelical ethics,” Robert P. Jones, the head of the institute and the author of The End of White Christian Americarecently told me.

The white evangelicals who support sexual predators like Moore and President Trump don’t care about the morality of the politicians representing him. They just want to win so they can exert disproportionate control over the country and force everyone to live under their oppressive policies. Codifying their intolerant views like making safe abortion illegal and ending marriage equality is the goal—and it doesn’t matter if electing an abuser is the key to making it happen.

Moore found the perfect community to let him hide in plain sight. By galvanizing a racist, homophobic, and Islamophobic base, Moore has found supporters who more readily believe rape victims are liars—and there’s research about it. A 2006 University of New England study found that participants who were more accepting of rape myths also were more racist, classist, sexist, ageist, homophobic and religiously intolerant. Consider Moore’s political history as summarized by ThinkProgress:

His victory in the Alabama Republican primary was widely considered a victory for Christian nationalism — unsurprising given Moore’s history as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. While in the position, Moore erected a 5,200-pound monument of the Ten Commandments in the lobby of the state judicial building; he later refused to remove it despite public outcry. As a Senate candidate, Moore has doubled down on his extremist stance, actively pushing for Christian education, implying that Muslims should not serve in government, and failing to clarify his stance on the rights of LGBTQ people.

Moore fits the aforementioned qualities perfectly. His supporters cheer him on because they believe he’s doing the right thing—laws or equality be damned. Is it really a surprise that most of his core base continued to support him?

As we try to minimize the damage done by power-hungry, lying conservatives, we need to know what we’re up against. White evangelicals overwhelmingly voted Trump. To better understand these “Roypublicans,” we can’t just obsess over the details; we have to look at the whole (racist) picture. As Charles Blow wrote in the New York Times

The Trump agenda is the Republican agenda: hostility to women and minorities, white supremacy and white nationalism, xenophobia, protectionist trade policies, tax policies that punish the poor and working class and people living in blue states.

Trump is a white man on a white stallion fighting to preserve white culture and white power. People who support this point of view and cheer the Trump charade forgave his failings because they believed so deeply in his mission. 

Dismissing rape victims as liars isn’t a singular trait; it’s one part of a larger values system. Rape culture and white supremacy go hand in hand. These folks don’t care about doing what’s right; it’s all about what’s right for them—child molestation or pussy grabbing be damned.

First published at Dailykos.com December 2017.

Gaslighting as a moral wrong

Gaslighting as a moral wrong

My Internet has been trash, so I finally sat down and read an article the dives into gaslighting as a particularly devastating moral wrong.

“Turning Up the Lights on Gaslighting” carefully defines the term, which has been distorted since it transitioned from a term only used in therapeutic practice to everyday life. Something I may write about later, if there’s interest.

Here’s how author Kate Abramson defines it—and I agree.

…a form of emotional manipulation in which the gaslighter tries (consciously or not) to induce in someone the sense that her reactions, perceptions, memories, and/or beliefs are not just mistaken, but utterly without grounds.

But what I really enjoyed about the article is the framing of gaslighting as a moral issue. It's a particular type of manipulation and attempt at control that is particularly egregious due to the violation of the target. I’ll admit I am not a huge philosophy/ethics nerd and I never considered gaslighting through this lens.

Gaslighting isn't just about getting rid of the target's independent thoughts, it's also about removing their moral standing that give their thoughts any weight. And the effects of gaslighting, where the target betrays their self, is particularly morally egregious.

Some reasons why:

Gaslighting dehumanizes (something abusers often to do their victims to cope with the fact they're harming another being).

...it would seem that insofar as I regard someone as 'crazy', I should regard her...as the object of treatment and management, rather than a member of the moral community of whom demands may be made."

Gaslighting takes advantage of what’s central to the human experience and shouldn't include trauma or betrayal and distorts it.

To use someone's love as a tool for gaslighting her is to take a capacity that's central in moral life and more generally and pervert it; it's to take a capacity that is of incalculable value and turn it into a tool for the destruction of the person who loves.

Gaslighting—even in a micro sense between individuals—upholds structural injustice that takes advantage of the normalization of sexism, racism, and other -isms AND perpetuates it.

"It is a distinctive moral wrong, one that has political and social dimensions, in that it unjustly, and by means of discriminatory norms, limits the psychologically real possibility for a woman going forward, and furthermore, in so doing, constitutes a moment of preserving and reinforcing larger structures of injustice."

I found the article compelling as a way to urge others to care about gaslighting as an interpersonal and societal ill. We need to intervene when we see it happening. We need to make sure we’re not doing it ourselves.

Read the article by Kate Abramson here.

Inspired by my Facebook post.

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