Note: this article contains references to sexual assault.
Diverting blame and playing the victim is a common tactic used by men accused of sexual harassment or assault — and those who choose to defend them.
It’s so common that the pattern of behaviour has an acronym: DARVO, which stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. The term was coined in 1997 though similar tactics have been reported on for decades.
This tactic became clear during Prime Minister Scott Morrisons’ press conference yesterday to address allegations of sexual violence in Parliament, from a Coalition staffer masturbating onto a female politician’s desk, to Brittany Higgins’ alleged rape, to the allegations of rape against Attorney-General Christian Porter (allegations he strenuously denies).
While Morrison’s speech started off well at yesterday’s conference, the second he deviated from his script DARVO came into play — and it’s not the first time Morrison has tried to diminish his responsibility, gaslight his constituents, and play the victim.
Ignorance, whether real or fake, is key in Morrison’s denial. Time and time again Morrison has denied knowing about Brittany Higgins’ allegations, saying he was only made aware of it on February 15 — despite one of his staffers knowing about it in 2019.
This is where gaslighting comes into play, with Morrison spinning a new story to confuse his audience. First he, along with others in his government, claimed the man who allegedly raped Higgins was fired for a “security breach” — a claim Parliament House security guard Nikola Anderson, who as working that night, has denied. Finance Minister Simon Birmingham later said the man was fired for going into work for non-work purposes when intoxicated — odd given Higgins retained her role.
Last Thursday, Morrison said he had no update on when the report into who knew what and when about Higgins’ allegation would be complete, despite knowing the investigation had been paused days prior. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese accused Morrison of misleading parliament which, surprise surprise, Morrison denied.
Morrison has also denied Christian Porter could have raped a fellow debater in 1988 based solely on Porter’s word having refused to read the woman’s police statement — once again feigning ignorance into the specifics of the allegations. He rebuffed calls for an inquiry into Porter’s suitability to hold his role, denying any responsibility for the matter, incorrectly saying only police could deal with the complaint.
Attacking victims’ credibility, along with the credibility of anyone questioning an alleged offender, is a standard tactic. During yesterday’s press conference, Sky News political editor Andrew Clennell asked if Morrison had lost control of his staff. Instead of addressing it, Morrison flipped the blame, weaponising an alleged harassment complaint received at Sky News.
“Right now, you would be aware that in your own organisation that there is a person who has had a complaint made against them for harassment of a woman in a women’s toilet and that matter is being pursued by your own HR department,” Morrison said.
The Australian federal political reporter Olivia Caisley rightly questioned why Morrison knew about this alleged incident but didn’t know about Higgins’ allegation, and whether the alleged victim had wanted it to be aired publically.
Sky News denies receiving any such complaint, and News Corp’s chairman Michael Miller said that Morrison may have “conflated” an incident with a verbal exchange that was not of a sexual nature.
Morrison has since apologised for his outburst, issuing a statement on Facebook late last night.
Last week, on the same day that thousands of women and allies rallied across the country and in front of parliament house, Morrison delivered a thinly-veiled attack at women, telling them it was “a triumph of democracy” they were able to protest at the March4Justice rally without getting shot.
Reverse Victim and Offender
Let’s not forget that the prime minister’s attack on the media took place mere minutes after Morrison fought back crocodile tears speaking about his love for his wife, mother, and daughters and how tough things must be for women. From tear to smear, Morrison pivoted from victim to attack spectacularly.
Morrison has let his voice crack when talking about how his wife Jen told him to imagine it was his girls at the centre of the Higgins allegations — poor father Morrison. This comes months after mocking Labor MP Jim Chalmers as being “sensitive” after he said he had cried in office.
Morrison also played the victim when refusing to attend the March4Justice rally last week, where tens of thousands of women protested his government’s lack of response to allegations of sexual violence. Nearly a week after the rally, Liberal MP Jason Falinski said Morrison couldn’t have attended due to security risks — playing the victim again. Morrison instead invited the rally’s organisers to meet him privately.
Let’s not forget former prime minister John Howard wore a bulletproof vest to face those protesting gun reform following the Port Arthur massacre.
The closest Morrison came to facing a security threat was last year when refugee activists pelted a Brussels sprout at his head.