By Anna Orso
The Philadelphia Inquirer
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) In this second year of “MeToo”, Anna Orso reflects on how some of the accused are now taking a different, more aggressive approach in responding to accusations of abuse.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
For the first year or so after the #MeToo movement awakened the public consciousness to sexual harassment and assault, those accused of being perpetrators relied largely on the same playbook: They denied they had committed a crime, but apologized, and then they slipped away into relative obscurity.
The second year of #MeToo was, in some ways, about the comebacks of the accused: the public freak-outs, the lawsuits over due process, the forceful denials, and the playing-the-victim tactics.
October, 15 marks two years since actress Alyssa Milano, in responding to allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Harvey Weinstein, started a conversation by tweeting: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” (One-time Philadelphia activist Tarana Burke created the #MeToo movement in 2006.)
Thousands of people have come forward with their stories since then. The response to many was, “Believe women.”
Along with that: Hundreds of alleged perpetrators have been called out, both publicly and privately, resulting in firings, resignations, criminal charges, and for a select few, jail time.
Today, though, it seems that more of the accused, in addition to plotting and executing their public comebacks, are coming out to say, “Believe men.”
This shift was demonstrated recently by Matt Lauer, the former host of NBC’s Today show, who released a lengthy open letter saying his “silence has been a mistake.” In a book by journalist Ronan Farrow that was published Tuesday, Oct. 15, former NBC employee Brooke Nevils reportedly accuses Lauer of raping her in 2014 at the Sochi Olympics.
Lauer was fired in November 2017 after NBC officials received multiple complaints of sexual misconduct. At the time, he issued an apology, saying: “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”
This time around, after Variety published excerpts of Farrow’s book, Lauer came out swinging, admitting only to having extramarital affairs, and saying Nevils’ story “is filled with false details intended only to create the impression that this was an abusive encounter.” He went on to say that the women with whom he had extramarital relationships had “abandoned shared responsibility.”
“They have done enormous damage in the process,” he wrote. “And I will no longer provide them the shelter of my silence.”
This reaction actually has a name: DARVO, for deny, attack, reverse victim and offender. The term was coined two decades ago by Jennifer Freyd, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and a visiting scholar at Stanford who studied Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ response to Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment.
DARVO is an effective tactic, her research suggests, in that people who “get DARVO’d” may be more likely to blame themselves for what happened. Prior research shows self-blame is associated with silencing.
Freyd said high-profile people have recently used DARVO with some success, which could make others more likely to try it. She pointed to President Trump, who was elected after denying allegations of sexual misconduct, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who forcefully denied allegations of sexual misconduct before he was confirmed to the Supreme Court last year.
“When people have a DARVO response, that is potentially damaging both to those in the situation and to our larger community,” she said. “DARVO is a conversation stuffer. It’s intimidating and scary to the person who gets DARVO’d or to other people who might want to speak about an experience.”
In a different sort of tactic, there were instances this year of people reversing course by expressing regret about how they handled their initial apologies, denials, or silence.
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