I was 10 years old when I learned that my mother had been sexually assaulted by a babysitter when she was around 5. My mom told me this directly, in a misguided bid to protect me from harm. Little did she know that harm had already been done. I was 5 when I was sexually assaulted myself by a boy who I liked very much; I was in first grade.
A year earlier, when I was in kindergarten, I had two boy best friends. We would hang out all the time at each other's houses, play games and I would frequently call them both my
boyfriends. We continued to write letters back and forth in our irregular childish scrawl
after I moved schools. I thought that my new friend, Peter, would be the same: kind and loving in that safe, companionate, innocent way. But he wasn't. Something was going on that was very destructive in Peter's life for him to sexually abuse me. He was only 10, still in grade 1, and his parents wouldn't talk to my father after he went over to confront them about what happened.
The new movie, Promising Young Woman, directed by Emerald Fennel, depicts the realities and legacies of sexual assault, rape, and gang rape. It harkens back to the context of the late 2000's when the internet was still being exploited for how quickly demeaning images of women could be shared around (still is, though mainstream popularity of this cultural practice of "slut-shaming" has decreased in many places).
The DARVO response was introduced by Dr. Jennifer Freyd and it is a predictable way
that perpetrators of many kinds of abuse evade accountability. The dangerous thing is that DARVO works. Research by Dr. Freyd found that exposure to a DARVO response was associated with less belief in, and more
blame of, the victim. Issuing a DARVO
response is successful for the perpetrators of abuse; it keeps other survivors quiet and confuses the general public who, "doesn't want to choose sides."
I am writing this article with all of my personal candor and psychological expertise because I want to educate and equip you to help me end the robbery of time and self that is rape and sexual abuse. We need to do this as a community.
Here's how it works: D is for denial – Denial that the abuse occurred, denial in the
victim's testimony. Out of sight, out of mind, and when the victim themselves believes that they simply imagined it or blew something out of proportion (due to family/friend denial and social pressure to recant), we get dissociative amnesia.
A is for attack – This is when the rapist/offender and/or their friends attack the survivor for speaking out. In the movie's case, it was when Nina took her offender to court that the offender and his legal team attacked her character, reiterating the m a harmless party activity. Invalidation by a loved one after a survivor shares their experience is a devastating psychological attack.
My mother and other women on my mother's side had this done to them repeatedly. My mother did it to me and the dissociative amnesia after my child-rape lasted seven years. Once puberty hit, and normal sexual inquiry began, my brain was able to access the
memories of the abuse and I was understandably infuriated. Cassie embodies this softly
broiling rage at understanding the hypocrisy and fatuity of how well DARVO obfuscates
basic fact and responsibility, perfectly.
R is for the reversal of the Victim (V) and Offender (O) — The movie issues a wonderful
example of how petulant, infantile and illequipped to handle the nuances of consensual
relationships most rapists are. And rapists are common, because giving more power to people who are conditioned to believe they don't have to be responsible for caring about other people with said power, is a recipe for abuse of that power. I'm sorry this is still so challenging for so many enablers and rapists to grasp, but the offender who was identified in raping Nina isn't going to have a terrible time in life because Nina held him accountable for raping her. The offender is going to have a terrible time in life because he chose to rape Nina and believes that he is entitled to do so without considering how his violence against Nina impacts her own life.
Watch the movie to find out what happens next. It's a fantastic ending, and it's probably
not what you think.
If you or a loved one are or have experienced rape or any other form of abuse that
is being gaslit and you notice the DARVO response kicking in, reach out at my YouTube channel Re-Creation Healing, where I have created several resource videos going through common expressions of the trauma, and how to stay well and protect yourself or your loved ones from further gaslighting, victim-blaming or abuse.