Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Yosef and Lessons about Abuse Prevention

 “Abusers thrive on creating confusion, including confusion about the abuse itself.”

-Lundy Bancroft

In this week’s Parsha (וישב) we learn about the story of Yosef and the wife of Potifar. 

Potifar is the master, the slave owner. He and his wife are in the position of power over Yosef, the slave.

The wife of Potifar tries to seduce Yosef, and when that fails, she makes accusations against him, turning herself into the victim and Yosef into the offender.

The topic of abuse prevention has many different compartments. Two of these compartments stand out to me within the story of Yosef and the wife of Potifar. 

These topics are DARVO (a form of gaslighting) and the idea of “The Perfect Victim".

Gaslighting is a form of manipulation that often occurs in abusive relationships. It is a covert type of emotional abuse in which the bully or abuser misleads the target, creating a false narrative and making them question their judgments and reality. Gaslighting can be done to individuals, groups or even communities.

DARVO is a form of gaslighting. 

DARVO is a smokescreen used as an attempt to conceal the truth. It enables the abuser to manipulate how others perceive the target and the conflict. It also often stuns the target into silence and confusion.

DARVO stands for:

D: Deny responsibility

A: Attack (the actual victim)

R: Reverse the roles of the..

V: Victim (with the...)

O: Offender

What does it look like when the offender implements a DARVO defense?

Step 1: Deny the event took place

Examples: “This is a lie”, “I could never do something like that”

Step 2: Attack the accuser. This can be done by either questioning their motivation, their level of trustworthiness, their mental health, their intelligence etc.

Examples: “You’re crazy!”, “You know they’re a known liar!”, “She has a problem with drugs and alcohol”, “How can one believe a slave?”

Step 3: Reverse the victim and offender roles: “I’m only being accused because I’m gay/Latino/female/…”, “This is the thanks I get for taking a boy off the streets and trying to help?”.

When confronted about their abusing, the abuser will often go on the offensive. DARVO is one of the main plays in this playbook.

The other concept that sticks out within the story of Yosef is this idea of “The Perfect Victim”.

Let me be absolutely clear, what a community views as “The Perfect Victim” and what the perpetrator views as “The Perfect Victim” are complete opposites.

The community wants a victim who never did anything wrong, who has never told a lie and whom we see absolutely no reason as to why they shouldn’t be believed.

The perpetrator will specifically stay away from such people. 

Perpetrators will specifically target victims who are either too afraid to come forward, or those who would not be believed if they were to come forward. 

In Yosef’s case, who is to be believed, the wife of a high-ranking government officer or a lowly slave?

In child sexual abuse, there is a concept known as grooming. Grooming is a process for which the abuser discovers which children are less likely to get the abuser into trouble, and starts manipulating them into silence. 

The abuser would rather abuse the child who was caught shoplifting last week.

The abuser would rather target the child who is cutting class.

Why is that? Because they’re less likely to be believed.

Sadly, there are many times where I’ve heard Rabbis say: “I’m one of the first people to side with the victims, but in this case, given what I know about the victim, they’re obviously lying”.

The number of false accusations of abuse (outside of a custody dispute) are extremely low. Yet these Rabbis and community leaders all know people whom they’re sure are victims of false accusations.

If we want to actually change the narrative, it means we need to change how we think.

We need to stop allowing, and even enabling, the abuse until “The Perfect Victim” comes. The smart ones don’t target those whom we perceive to be a perfect victim. 

We also need to recognize what DARVO is and we need to stop falling for it. 

Who falls for DARVO and who dismisses claims because it isn’t the perfect victim? That’s the Egyptian court in Pharoh’s time.

Is that how we also behave?

Is that how we should behave?

Perhaps we should look in the mirror and ask ourselves not only how we run our courts of law, but how we individually choose to judge when we hear an accusation of abuse. 

Yisroel Picker is a Social Worker who lives in Jerusalem. He has a private practice which specializes in working with people of all ages helping them understand their own thought processes, enabling them to improve their level of functioning, awareness, social skills and more.

To speak with Yisroel about presenting at a child safety event or to discuss a personal case, email him at

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