The Psychology of Victim and Offender Reversal


Victim and offender reversal

What has happened here?

To understand, we will go back a little to see where the story starts. Someone is standing on the right side, and another is on the left. There is a crowd in the middle.

The one on the right starts shouting that the one on the left has harmed me, has committed a crime against me, has done a bad thing to me and that person is a criminal. He makes that claim and says: here is the document proving the crime. And the two people standing down there are witness that the person has committed the crime towards me.

After this is said most members of the crowd that were standing there and were neutral prior to this, come and back the plaintiff, they support him and are on his side. A few are probably supporting the accused person. They are probably the person’s family and friends standing behind him. Some are still neutral and don’t pick a specific side.

From now and on we can call the accuser “the victim” and the accused “offender”.

What happens now? The offender starts to defend himself. How does he do that?

Jennifer Freyd is an American psychologist who has done research on violence amongst individuals. She describes a model called “DARVO” and believes that people who commit acts of violence against others use this pattern a lot in defending themselves.

“DARVO” is an abbreviation for “DENY”, “ATTACK”,”REVERSE VICTIM AND OFFENDER”.

We will learn more about the rest of these stages as the story continues.

Stage 1: Denial

The offender starts denying having ever done the crime. He says: 

You’ve gone crazy! I could never have done such a thing! What makes you think I could’ve said such a thing? There is no way I could say such a thing or do such a thing! 

With these words a contradiction happens. The offender and victim are each saying a different thing. These words don’t change people’s stance to support the offender, but makes them turn to the neutral group were the belief is that you have to hear both sides and you can’t judge without it and we must give the offender a chance to speak. These people go to the neutral side so as to hear both sides without bias.

Stage 2: Attack

The offender attacks the victim. He says

Why did you even check my phone to see those messages?

or he says: 

If you weren’t an attention seeker yourself you wouldn’t wear clothes like that or fix your make up like that. He says: I invited you, but why did you accept? 

And words like that.

Now, I would like to make an assumption here that people don’t like to believe that bad things happen to good people, in that case of we consider ourselves good people, we have to accept that bad things can happen to us too. So we prefer to think that the good person wasn’t that good, he had insecurities and there was something within him. These types of thought make more people have doubts and go to the neutral side. Also a number of people change their mind and come to support the offender.

Stage 3: Reverse victim and offender

The offender says: the things that you said have had a terrible impact on me and have ruined my life. I have been hurt very badly after what you said, after which he starts crying and says: 

You have broken my heart with your words and the judgment you made of me.

Thus most people who hadn’t chosen a side come to the offender’s support and a number of the victim’s supporters become neutral, leaving the victim alone.

There are different examples of how the three stages of “DARVO” are executed and they can be seen in daily life or within the news. For example, you are standing in line and someone cuts the line. You tell the person: My friend, this is a line. At first they deny it. They say:

I’ve been here since morning and you have just arrived half an hour ago. 

Then they might attack you by saying:

Are you the line monitor? Who are you to say such things to me?  Mind your own business. Make sure no one takes your own turn from you. 

And in the end they reverse the victim and offender by saying: 

Like everything in this country is a dream come true and it’s only me cutting the line that’s a problem!  Billions of Tomans of money have been embezzled and you are upset over cutting the line? Will our country’s problems be solved if I don’t cut the line?  We’re so miserable and it’s our fault that we are!

They pretend to be the victim even though they have made a mistake. Even though they have cut the line they fake being a victim.


Violations of Power, Adaptive Blindness and Betrayal Trauma Theory by Jennifer J. Freyd

The Psychology of Victim Reversal by Zulie Rane.

Originally appeared on my Instagram in March 2019.