It is no secret that R Kelly's interview on CBS This Morning, where he discusses the sexual assault allegations made in the recent documentary series, Surviving R Kelly, was everything from suspicious to shocking. We saw him scream at the camera, wailing that his accusers are liars, burying him alive with their lies. We watched him lose his cool and not be able to calm down, even at the urging of his entourage. Though this kind of behavior is appalling to some, many survivors of sexual exploitation and other gender-based violence have experienced this abuse tactic first-hand. It is called DARVO, an acronym coined by Jennifer Freyd, Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon.
DARVO, short for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender, is designed to confuse others on who is actually responsible for the abuse. While Kelly's reaction during his CBS interview cannot prove or disprove his innocence, many of us have seen this kind of behavior before and the kinds of outcomes it has brought others. The public has seen similar behavior in convicted serial killers and founders of cults. We have seen it in the media, when public figures are accused of wrongdoing, but instead of admitting any guilt whatsoever, they simply deny everything, and claim that they are the one being attacked, not the person they are accused of harming. The end result has the accused successfully playing the victim. It happens all the time, and often in far less public arenas.
Though we may not sit on the jury deciding R Kelly's fate, we can take this knowledge of DARVO and protect ourselves and others when we identify it. If we find ourselves in a personal relationship with someone who has confronted their Significant Other with a concern, but instead of having a civil discussion, their SO makes attacks to their character or aggressively plays the victim, we must identify this as high risk behavior and do what we can to separate our friend from their SO. If we are the ones receiving DARVO tactics from our SO or anyone in our lives, we must do our best to remove ourselves from the situation as soon as possible. Toxic, controlling behavior is one step away from domestic violence, and domestic violence can lead to deeper consequences, including exploitation.
Our team at Alabaster Jar Project provides trauma-informed services which help our survivor sisters heal from many forms of abuse. Psychological abuse is part of a variety of tactics used by traffickers, and it's often the hardest to overcome. “I left Grace House two years ago, and sometimes it's still hard to know when I can trust someone and when I shouldn't,” Michelle*, a graduate of our residential program, states. “When you've been hurt as badly as I have been, you don't want to trust anyone, even yourself.”
Because of this long-term reaction to sexual exploitation, we are sharing the Beyond Boundaries curriculum, by John Townsend, with participants at our support group. This way, our sisters can discuss trust in relationships in a safe environment with their peers. “I am learning how to set boundaries and recognize them in others,” Michelle says, “but also that boundaries need to be reevaluated as I go. I always want to be cautious, but I know I'm in a safer place now.”
Please pray for the continued healing of the women we serve. Though they all have come a long way, they are not strangers to tactics like DARVO. We constantly implement services that help them move forward with their recovery, and it takes lots of teamwork and prayer to follow through.
written by Amanda Moon Ellevis