How to spot a pattern of denials in the #MeToo movement

When men are accused of sexual harassment, they all pull from the same playbook. Jian Ghomeshi, Brett Kavanaugh, and Donald Trump have all used it. It's called DARVO.
Brett Kavanaugh testifies to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing on Sept. 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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When Brett Kavanaugh denied sexual assault allegations, attacked his accuser's memory, and then described himself as being the victim of a conspiracy — several psychologists knew what they were seeing: DARVO.  

DARVO stands for deny, attack, and reverse victim order. The term was coined by a research team at the University of Oregon and the University of California, Santa Cruz, who identified the pattern alleged abusers use to deflect attention away from themselves and back to the person making the accusation. 

University of Oregon psychology professor and Stanford fellow Jennifer Freyd, said that the reason it gets used frequently is that it works. 

Jennifer Freyd is a psychology professor at the University of Oregon and a fellow at Stanford's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Submitted by Jennifer Freyd)

"I did not expect ... that so many people actually found the DARVO convincing. But it makes sense. I mean that's why people use it," said Freyd. 

However, she said that the number of people who are inclined to believe a DARVO response, lessens significantly as soon as they understand its mechanics.

For example, Freyd identified Kavanaugh as someone who used this aggressive retort to shift blame away from himself when accused of sexual harassment by Christine Blasey Ford and other women. 

Here's how DARVO works, using Kavanaugh's senate testimony.

DENIAL:

"The drinking age was 18 in Maryland for most of my time in high school and was 18 in D.C. for all of my time in high school. I drank beer with my friends. Almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers. Sometimes others did. I liked beer. I still like beer. But I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I never sexually assaulted anyone."

ATTACK:

"Dr. Ford's allegation is not merely uncorroborated, it is refuted by the very people she says were there, including by a longtime friend of hers. Refuted." 

REVERSE VICTIM ORDER:

"This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups."

Freyd asserted that while not everyone accused of an accusation is guilty, DARVO is not a good way to defend your innocence.

"You don't have to respond defensively to an accusation, whether you've done it or have not done it. And a non-defensive response can really move people," said Freyd.