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June 9, 2022

Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard: We need to Talk about Victim Blaming.

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Honestly, I’m not sure where to begin writing this essay.

I guess I’ll start with this—like many, I found myself watching the Depp versus Heard defamation case. I started to write “media circus,” but considering the sheer volume of memes, TikTok videos, and tweets, “social media circus” is more accurate.

However, this is bigger and much more disturbing than the news and social media. The extent of the rabid hero-worship of an aging actor most famous for portraying a drunk pirate, and the complete demonization of his ex-wife for coming forward with claims of abuse during their divorce six years ago, make this a travesty.

Not a joke, not entertainment, not merely a celebrity feud. This is a very serious indication of the general public’s willingness to believe victims of domestic violence—to believe women.

The actual facts of what constitutes defamation and intimate partner violence have gone almost completely overlooked in the heated vitriol of coverage by average people taking to social media platforms to defend someone they don’t know.

Amateur, at-home investigators—consumed with picking apart every detail of every statement made by Amber Heard in court—were willing to overlook the amount of money and influence Johnny Depp wielded in order to even have this case tried again in Virginia—a state neither party resides—after unceremoniously losing the same defamation claim in the United Kingdom.

More attention was given to tearing apart Amber Heard’s facial expressions, wardrobe, and tissue-holding than to her testimony, detailing multiple instances of abuse from her ex-husband while he was in the throes of opiate addiction and self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs.

This isn’t conjecture—Mr. Depp detailed his struggle with opiate abuse while simultaneously romanticizing his alcohol consumption and drug use. Mr. Depp, an almost-60-year-old man, smirked on the stand, joked about “reorganizing” his wife’s closet during an angry tirade where he threw racks of clothing down the stairs of their penthouse, then snacked on candy and drew pictures during his ex-wife’s emotional testimony where she was obligated under oath to describe the physical and sexual violence committed against her during their relationship.

We were allowed to witness the inner workings of a sensitive court case dealing with deeply personal issues of addiction and domestic violence because it was live-streamed from inside the courtroom.

The voracious appetite this country has for salacious celebrity gossip eclipsed the basic need for privacy and tact. Fans were allowed inside the courtroom and camped out overnight to secure a spot as if they were lining up for a concert.

Quite frankly, none of this was our business, yet we were invited to share in this trauma at the insistence of Mr. Depp and his legal team, who not only brought about a second defamation case against Ms. Heard despite already losing this same argument in the U.K., but also campaigned the court to have it broadcast to the world.

Then, when the verdict was delivered, finding that both parties had defamed each other but leaning heavily in favor of Mr. Depp, the very man who insisted we all watch him air his dirty laundry was absent from the courtroom. Where was he, you ask? Making an appearance, playing guitar at a string of concerts in another country.

Do I even need to say it?

Johnny Depp doesn’t care about you. He used his fan base to blow up social media with hateful commentary against Amber Heard, just like he used his former attorney Adam Waldman to start a false narrative about Ms. Heard’s claims of abuse, calling it all a hoax. He used his fans, the media, his legal team, and being a celebrity to influence a jury and humiliate his ex because, at the end of the day, that’s really all he wanted.

Again, this is a fact revealed in text messages entered as evidence during the trial, where he promised “global humiliation” for his ex-wife.

As a former victim of domestic violence, this entire fiasco and the chatter it’s created, casually dismissing claims of domestic violence, has been triggering.

And even without my own experiences with intimate partner violence, as a woman in America, I’m just tired. I am tired of the hateful rhetoric toward women in this country. Smart women, strong women, women who speak out, women who advocate, women who share their own stories and support the stories of others, women who want to be seen, heard, appreciated, and respected, women who want to be accepted, women who want to be paid equally and have a seat at the table, to have autonomy over their bodies, their careers, and their lives.

It is exhausting to face the constant barrage of bad news and opinion-based reporting on social media and some news outlets, internet trolls whose main objective is to tear down the perceived opponents of their favorite celebrities, body-shaming haters in real life and online, not to mention the very real tragedies facing our country in regards to losing our right to abortion access and constantly battling gun advocates despite multiple mass shootings every month.

I’m tired of feeling victimized in my personal life and by my country. Because the truth is, every time we post something nasty about a woman coming forward with abuse claims, every time we roll our eyes at or make a disparaging comment about a woman’s story of being treated unfairly in any arena of her life, we continue to cultivate a culture that diminishes women.

Adding insult to injury, we then point the finger of blame at women every time we question their truth, forcing women to try and explain why they’ve been victimized, rather than shifting our focus to the perpetrators of violence and the institutions that support them.

There seems to be a pervasive idea of a “perfect” victim that we as a culture, as a country, ascribe to. Someone who is attractive but not too attractive, someone who cowers and submits, someone who is not concerned with material success or her career trajectory, someone who is self-sacrificing to the extreme. Someone who has clear indications of abuse such as bruises or cuts or scars, and who also has photographic or videoed proof taken during the act of being abused.

This person is allowed to have a mental health condition such as PTSD as a result of her trauma but is not allowed to struggle with any other mental health condition. If it is indicated that she does, that condition may be used to ignore or ridicule her claims.

The perfect victim is not angry at her abuser or at being abused, only sad. She does not fight back or make efforts to defend herself. She relies heavily on over-extended law enforcement to intervene on her behalf, even though this may mean that she, not her abuser, is displaced from her home. She is not allowed to tell friends, family, counselors, or medical providers about the abuse until or unless she is ready to leave and/or take legal action against her abuser.

If she does speak up and stays in the relationship, she is lying, exaggerating, or stupid. Perhaps, most disturbingly, this ideal victim doesn’t speak openly about her abuse. She doesn’t write about it or talk publicly about it. If she uses her First Amendment right to free speech to share her experiences, even the most vague references leave her vulnerable to lawsuits by her abuser, thus continuing the imbalance of power and the cycle of abuse.

Essentially, the abuser is allowed to continue to punish and control their victim long after the relationship has ended.

None of these ideas or expectations of what a victim “should” be are realistic or attainable, yet we continue to openly question abuse claims by women who do come forward, mocking their stories, hyper-fixating on meaningless details, and laughing at their trauma.

What will make you pause in your judgment? What will make you believe? What needs to happen to change our victim-blaming society? If it were you who was abused, what burden of proof would you think is fair to be compelled to provide?

If photos of bruises and other injuries, recordings of verbal abuse and intimidating tactics like destruction of property and personal items, medical records and notes from therapy sessions, and testimony from concerned friends and relatives that were privy to abusive, intimidating or traumatizing acts on the part of the abusive partner aren’t enough, what is?

To help answer the extremely insensitive question of “why would you stay?” in an abusive relationship, here are just a few answers:

>> You love your partner.

>> You trust that they will treat you better in the future.

>> You believe them when they apologize for abusing you.

>> You are intimately aware of the mental health or substance abuse issues your partner has and blame the abuse on lack of medical treatment for those issues.

>> You may have substance abuse or mental health issues of your own that you are actively trying to manage.

>> You work with or for your partner, putting your livelihood in jeopardy if you end the relationship.

>> You have children or other dependents who rely on your joint income with your abusive partner.

>> You have been a part of an abusive cycle for so long that the abusive behavior has become normalized.

>> Your partner isolates you from loved ones who would help you.

>> You feel scared for your life.

>> You have tried to leave before and have been punished by your partner.

>> You feel guilty for defending yourself in arguments and believe that you are at fault.

>> You believe that you can fix the relationship.

>> You are ashamed to come forward and reveal the truth of your relationship to mutual friends and family.

>> You are physically restrained from leaving.

>> You are manipulated psychologically into believing that you have nowhere to go and no options outside of staying in the relationship.

It’s important to note the staggering statistics that tell us that one in four women will become victims of intimate partner violence at some point in their life.

In the current climate of victim blaming and trauma as entertainment for the masses, I’m begging you to pause and ask yourself, with landmark cases like Depp versus Heard setting a precedent that openly gaslights victims and invites the public to pick apart their memories and experiences, what will happen when you or someone you love becomes a part of those statistics?

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