Deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender (DARVO) is a tactic a person may use to deflect responsibility onto an individual they have abused. It is a form of manipulation a person may use to discredit a survivor’s experience.

Someone may use DARVO to make it seem as though the survivor of their abuse was actually the perpetrator.

A person who uses DARVO may deny that they have done anything wrong. They may also state that they are the one who has experienced abuse rather than the actual survivor. This form of manipulation may make it difficult for other people to determine who is telling the truth.

Read on to learn more about DARVO, including how it can affect a person’s mental health and how someone may be able to protect themselves against it.

Content warning

This feature mentions experiences of trauma and sexual abuse. Please read at your own discretion.

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DARVO is a technique a person may use to shift responsibility for an abusive incident onto the survivor of the abuse. It may also help the person who perpetrated the abuse deflect some of the responsibility and blame onto the survivor.

A person may use DARVO to avoid punishment or repercussions for their actions.

A study from 2022 looked into the experiences of 89 women who experienced sexual assault while at college. Researchers found that almost half of the participants experienced DARVO tactics from the person who abused them when they had further contact with them.

DARVO comprises three behaviors:


A perpetrator of abuse may deny that they have done anything wrong. They may minimize the feelings of the person they abused. For example, they may tell the person they have abused that they are:

  • overly sensitive
  • blowing things out of proportion
  • being ridiculous


When a perpetrator is accused of wrongdoing, they may attack the credibility and character of the survivor of their abuse. They may bring up incidents from a person’s past to discredit their accusations.

A perpetrator may state that the survivor of their abuse:

They may also use gaslighting to confuse the survivor of their abuse. Gaslighting is when a person manipulates another person into doubting their own reality. It may cause a survivor of abuse to second-guess what happened.

Reverse victim and offender

A person may state that the survivor of their abuse is actually the one who perpetrated it. Their aim is to discredit the survivor while making it seem as though they are the one who has been abused.

For example, the perpetrator may lie and state that the survivor of their abuse is:

  • out to get them
  • trying to make them look bad or ruin their life
  • trying to get custody of their children
  • trying to get money from them
  • jealous of them
  • angry that they rejected them

Help is available

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of domestic violence, call 911 or otherwise seek emergency help. Anyone who needs advice or support can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 via:

  • phone, at 800-799-7233
  • text, by texting START to 88788

Many other resources are available, including helplines, in-person support, and temporary housing. People can find local resources and others classified by demographics, such as support specifically for People of Color, here:

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DARVO can negatively affect the mental health of a person who has survived abuse. It can be difficult for a person to feel their trauma is being minimized or dismissed. Additionally, feeling like people do not believe them can be harmful.

Research from 2021 investigated how female survivors of sexual assault felt if police did not believe them. Researchers found they felt:

  • a loss of trust in the police
  • victimized by the police and made to feel at fault for what happened
  • a loss of self-worth, self-image, self-confidence, or self-esteem
  • negative effects on their overall health and well-being

A 2017 study found that a perpetrator using DARVO could cause a survivor to feel like they were to blame for an abusive incident. Researchers noted that the more a person was exposed to DARVO, the more likely they were to blame themselves for the abuse they experienced.

DARVO can also affect how other people view the perpetrator and the survivor of their abuse.

A study from 2023 with undergraduate students looked into the effect of DARVO on their perception of perpetrators and survivors of sexual assault. Researchers found that study participants rated perpetrators who used DARVO as:

  • less abusive
  • less responsible for the sexual assault
  • more believable than perpetrators who did not use DARVO

Additionally, participants rated survivors of perpetrators who used DARVO as less believable and more abusive. They were also willing to punish the survivor and less willing to punish the perpetrator.

It is important for people who have survived abuse to understand that they are not to blame for what happened to them. The responsibility lies with the person who abused them.

A person may protect themselves from DARVO in several ways.

Learning about DARVO and its signs may help a person identify when it is occurring. A 2020 study notes that people who had been educated in DARVO methods found perpetrators less believable. Additionally, participants found survivors of abuse more believable and less abusive.

Other methods a person can use to protect themselves against DARVO include:

  • recording or making note of occurrences of DARVO and other abuse, including dates and times
  • setting boundaries for what they will accept and what they will not tolerate
  • speaking with a mental health professional
  • speaking with a support worker or finding a support group for survivors of abuse

Various support groups and resources are available for people who are experiencing domestic violence, which includes emotional abuse. Some of these resources include:

If someone becomes physically abusive or violent, or if a person feels their life may be in danger, they should call 911 immediately.

DARVO is a tactic perpetrators of abuse may use to deflect responsibility onto the survivors of their abuse. They use it to confuse and manipulate the survivor and attack their credibility.

DARVO can affect how other people view the survivor. They may feel as though the survivor is less trustworthy. They may also feel like the person who abused the survivor is more believable.

A person may protect themselves from DARVO in several ways. Learning about DARVO tactics can help a person notice when it occurs. A person may also find it helpful to note any incidents of DARVO and other abuse.

Many resources are available for people who have experienced DARVO and other forms of abuse. If a person experiences physical violence or fears their life may be in danger, they should call 911 immediately.