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Depp Vs Heard - What is DARVO?

The Depp versus Heard case has attracted much interest from both the media and the general public. I know my daughters have both been following it all very closely and have been quite shocked at some of the narrative around the couple’s behaviour.

I guess because I have worked for many years with relationship issues, I didn’t feel particularly shocked by any of the things that were reported, just interested by them. I was listening to some radio coverage of the court’s decision, saying that Johnny Depp had won his defamation case against his ex-wife and that Amber Heard had not come out of things looking good, despite a partial win in her countersuit.

On the radio show someone commented that there would be three ‘truths’ within the Depp/Heard story; her truth, his truth and the reality. I do concur with this idea, each party undoubtedly will have their own narrative, with the reality lying somewhere between the two.

Another participant in the radio programme used the term DAVRO, which is one I have not heard before, but certainly recognise, through my work with abusive relationships, the behaviours that are attached to it. It stands for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.

The ‘Deny’ part is fairly obvious, the person accused of the wrongdoing, possibly abusive behaviour of some description, simply denies that is the case and can use gaslighting to throw doubt on the other’s, possibly their partner’s lived experience.

The ‘Attack’ part is when the accused person attacks the other party, focusing blame on them in some way, maybe accusing them of distorting the truth.

Looking at the ‘Reverse Victim and Offender’ part of DAVRO, this can be a more subtle stage, when the accused person may go into victim persona saying their partner, or whoever is calling them out, is indeed their persecutor and the one who is behaving in an abusive manner.

The victim position is indeed a very powerful one and can be very seductive, inviting others to take on the role of rescuer and protector against a perceived ‘bully’.

Over the years I have felt encouraged by seeing more men being comfortable enough to disclose that they have been the victims of abuse by a female. I do still believe though that this can be really difficult for them to do and there may well be many more males out there who either feel too embarrassed or ashamed to admit that this is the case.

In my experience some people can still struggle with the idea that females can be coercive and controlling and even physically abusive to their male partners. In some couples I have worked with the female abuser has used the DARVO concept to try to invite sympathy and at times that can be a difficult invitation to resist, thereby falling in to the trap of believing that the male is always the oppressor.

I thank Johnny Depp and Amber Heard for bringing their own very personal experiences into the public arena, maybe we can learn a lot from what has happened to them and consider that when abuse is present in heterosexual relationships it can be either party who can be the victim.

Brethertons Family Team are familiar with all the different abusive behaviours and would be happy to speak with anyone, male or female who feel they are suffering abuse within the context of the relationship. Equally I would encourage anyone, no matter what their gender or sexual orientation, to report any abuse they are experiencing. Please do get in touch with me at Brethertons; or contact the Family Team on 01788 579579.