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Sexual Abuse

Kavanaugh's Shift to Victim

A common pattern of manipulation played out in Senate testimony.

Kat Wilcox/Pexels
Source: Kat Wilcox/Pexels

On September 28th, when Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh delivered their testimony, a powerful and pervasive dynamic played out that is not unusual between men and women. The Brett Kavanaugh who showed up at the judicial hearing wasn’t the one many of his female supporters described. His angry demeanor and aggressive reactions to Senators’ questions raised doubts about his temperament and whether he’s as honest as he made himself appear.

The Accusation

In her testimony, Dr. Ford identified feeling terrified, yet went on to describe her sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh with candor, showing heartfelt emotions and a trembling voice at times. The overall response to her testimony was that she was believable and compelling.

The Response

In his testimony, Judge Kavanaugh behaved in a way that perpetrators act when confronted with an accusation. For example, when Senator Amy Klobuchar questioned him about drinking and blackouts, Kavanaugh responded with clear irritation and defensively came back at her with, “Have you?” Have you ever blacked out?” He never answered her question and perhaps avoided lying under oath. Was this a glimpse of disrespect of women?

Judge Kavanaugh took the stance that he’s not at fault but those attacking him are. He railed against the Democrats, saying that opposition from “the Left” to his nomination was based on “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” ( Later he apologized for his tone to one senator, but claimed he felt an “overwhelming frustration at the accusations from Christine Blasey Ford and others.” What’s not okay is blaming Dr. Ford and others for his unbecoming behavior.

Unpacking the dynamic that played out between Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh:

She speaks up about her sexual assault and clearly holds him responsible for his traumatic attack that she never forgot

He “categorically” denies that he ever sexually assaulted her.

He then lashes out with anger, blame, and accusations.

He feels “victimized” and shifts (reverses positions) to believing he’s the true victim.

He holds others responsible for what they did to him—making them out to be the true offenders.

Pattern of Denying and Accusing

In 1997, Freyd identified this pattern of behavior as it pertains to child abuse and sexual offenders as DARVO—deny the offense, attack the accuser, reverse (roles) and identify as the victim, and see the “victim or accuser” as the offender. This dynamic is common among those who have done wrong (criminal or not) and are confronted about their hurtful behavior.

Having examined over a thousand relationships, I see the DARVO pattern in my work with women who have controlling partners. In almost every single case of intimate partner abuse—physical, psychological, or emotional abuse—when women attempt to address a partner’s hurtful behavior or abuse, they end up being attacked and ultimately accused of being the abusive one.

In court, for example, women tell their story of abuse, their partners lie and deny, and often, without evidence, the conclusion ends up being “he said she said.”

Once the conclusion becomes a “he said she said,” whether in a divorce proceeding or a judicial hearing, she will not be heard or validated and the perpetrator is off the hook.

Detecting: DARVO

The deny-and-then-accuse pattern of communication is meant to deceive and to manipulate the truth.

In a verbal exchange in which you raise a concern that holds Person B accountable for misbehavior, that person’s response will let you know whether you have a chance of being heard. Once there’s outright denial without a show of any curiosity or concern about your experience, and anger that the concern was spoken, take note of what’s happening.

Be aware that you are being subjected to a DARVO maneuver. Such awareness will help you avoid being deterred from your truth and stay committed to your own beliefs.


Freyd, J.J. (1997) Violations of power, adaptive blindness, and betrayal trauma theory. Feminism & Psychology, 7, 22-32

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