I haven’t written here for 2 years but there’s nothing like a massively public defamation vs domestic violence trial to get a domestic abuse survivor back to the blogging.
I chose the title to include Johnny Depp and not Amber Heard for a reason, and that reason is because the sheer amount of posts made about Amber Heard directing rage and hatred towards her is…a lot. But no one seems to be talking about Johnny Depp.
The thing is, I don’t know where I stand on Amber Heard. Is she an perpetrator of domestic violence? Is she the sole victim? Is she on the receiving end of abuse but has engaged in reactive abuse (more on that later)? I’m not sure if I will ever decide my opinion on her. But what I do know is that Johnny Depp is an abuser. The thing is, this isn’t debatable. But the disturbing reaction of the media and the public to this extremely public trial would make you think that he’s just an innocent victim.
Johnny Depp as an abuser
Regardless of whether Heard has been abusive or not, the dismissive attitude from the public and the media towards the damning evidence that shows Depp to have been abusive is harrowing. Whether or not Heard is also a perpetrator does not negate the fact that she is a victim. But when I come across the unavoidable social media posts popping up everywhere commenting on this topic, the overwhelming majority seem to be massively in support of Depp. The seething hatred directed at Heard, and the intensity of the scrutiny of her every move is in stark contrast to the love and support Depp is receiving despite evidence of his abuse. Evidence that shows unquestioningly that Depp’s substance abuse lead to violent behaviour – not just towards Heard but on film sets too. He was known for volatile outbursts and for punching a crew member. Whilst we don’t know how Depp came to have a finger sliced open because both Heard and Depp tell different stories, he has admitted to writing abusive messages to Heard on their walls in his own blood, rather than seeking medical care. He has admitted to writing abusive text messages saying he hoped her rotting corpse was decomposing in the boot of a car, and saying that they should drown her, burn her, and that he would then f*ck her corpse to make sure she was dead. In the UK trial, Heard submitted witness testimony that included text messages, emails, diary entries, and photographs of her bruises. This showed a clear pattern of abuse, occurring most of the time when Depp was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and there are witnesses to episodes of violence from Depp, and witnesses to evidence of abuse after alleged incidents. He also admits during a recording that there was “physical abuse on each other”.
The media and public reaction
Watching the media and the public treating this like a circus is sickening. There are countless Instagram reels, Facebook posts, and TikTok videos that not only ridicule Heard’s facial expressions and how she cries, but also mocking sexual trauma and domestic violence – even going as far as to say that because Depp is so attractive it’s not possible to be sexually assaulted by someone like him – an incredibly dangerous and harmful narrative. Comments such as “He could have killed you, he had every right” are terrifying. You’d think that with the reaction of the public, Heard was on trial for a series of extremely violent acts, not being sued over a newspaper column. The incredible amount of unquestioning support for Depp shows that men are favoured in cases like this whereas the scathing remarks about Heard are in direct comparison. Heard is being called “mental”, “crazy”, “manipulative”, “lying”, “c*nt”, with an horrifying amount of misogynistic violence being directed her way, whilst her every move in scrutinised and used as “proof” of her lies. There’s also a complete lack of understanding about the way memory works, especially when it’s a memory of trauma – and these cries of “caught in her own lies!” really show how ignorant people are to how this stuff works.
Comments such as “if she was a victim she would/wouldn’t do x” are rife, and this feeds into the idea of the “perfect victim”, whereby a victim is expected to act in very specific and expected ways, or they are not believed. In comparison, I haven’t seen any analysis on the way Depp is behaving. Depp’s many smirks are overlooked – and again, I wouldn’t want to play into the “perfect victim” narrative but why is his behaviour not even commented on? Whilst Heard is being humiliated, mocked, and discredited, the concrete evidence that Depp has been abusive towards her is made light of and excused. This highlights on a massive scale how it has always been for women who are victims of rape and/or domestic abuse: that even when there is proof of abuse, people will still take the side of someone who is evidenced to be an abuser. What message does that send to victims when they see the treatment of Heard even when there is evidence of abuse against her? What about those who have no recorded evidence or admissions?
We also expect victims of domestic violence to be the kind of people we would respect and admire, but that ignores the reality that anyone can be abused: they don’t have to be likeable, and could even be downright toxic. This doesn’t negate that they are victims of abuse.
While Heard may be giving an inaccurate picture of the context of the abuse, she was still a victim of abusive acts. She is painted as a manipulative, lying witch and Depp as the helpless victim. This narrative of a woman lying about abuse is one which misogynists everywhere will take as vindication of their horrific beliefs. And how is it that Heard’s volatile acts are seen as proof that she is an abuser whereas Depp’s abusive acts are a result of her provoking him by being aggressive; that she was “asking for it”? This classic victim blaming plays into the hands of those who have been waiting to be able to say “Look! Women lie about abuse! He’s the real victim here!” These are the #notallmen but the #allwoman kind of people who bemoan the important conversations about the overwhelming statistics showing the amount of rape and abuse victims where men are the perpetrators. These are the people who constantly argue against believing female victims. These are the people who argue that rape and abuse allegations ruin the careers of men – ironic when what we are seeing here is the opposite. And I’m seeing them all over the place, voices loud and gleeful because the entire narrative is validating their warped opinions. This narrative is undoing all the work for victims of rape and abuse that the MeToo movement did.
The other narrative that is perpetuating harmful stereotypes is these questionable diagnoses that Heard has apparently been given during the trial of both histronic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder. Having a personality disorder does not make you violent. It does not make you a liar. (We also know already that if Heard IS lying, it’s not about Depp being abusive because that has already been evidenced.) The stigma and ignorance around personality disorders is already pretty shocking, so we really don’t need to add fuel to that fire, but these dubious diagnoses are now being used to discredit her entirely, regardless of the fact that they are completely irrelevant. This is only hurting people with mental illnesses and adding to the stigma against them. In reality, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be on the receiving end of violence and abuse.
Dynamics in an abusive relationship
When we look at this case we also need to talk about the dynamics in abusive relationships. Domestic abuse experts have weighed in (independently from the trial) to talk about how the idea of two people in a relationship being abusive is impossible. This is because in an abusive relationship, one person has power and control over the other in some way, and because of the dynamic of abusive relationship, the concept of mutual abuse cannot exist. When we look at Depp and Heard, Depp is 23 years older than Heard, at the time was infinitely richer, infinitely more famous, and already had the goodwill and favour of the public due to being so well known for his fantastic performances as an actor and for his good looks. This would put Depp as being the person with more power in the relationship, from multiple angles. Being male is also physically another position of power. This is NOT to undermine male victims of abuse, it is just one aspect of power that CAN be used in an abusive relationship where a male is the perpetrator. With a combination of all those factors, it would appear unlikely that Heard would be the perpetrator in a relationship where she holds little power.
In the article linked above, one of the experts goes on to talk about reactive abuse, which is when someone who is being abused “responds in an abusive way due to the need for safety, control, or even out of fear.” They explain that “reactive abuse is a power play used to deny ownership of the abuse and can look like the victim yelling, fighting back, or defending themselves. To spot reactive abuse, we must look at the patterns within a relationship. Looking at physical appearances is not a way to determine if a person is a victim or perpetrator. All genders can uphold biases due to our culture’s views on power and control.” So could it be possible that one of them is engaging in reactive abuse in response to the abuse they have received? Due to his substance abuse, power status, and the outcome of the UK trial which found him to have been abusive, it seems more likely that Heard would fit into the category of reactive abuser if this is in fact what was happening.
DARVO in abusive relationships
We should also consider DARVO – another concept from domestic violence research. DARVO stands for deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender. This is where the perpetrator denies their behaviour, attacks the victim, and reverses their roles, alleging that they are the true victim and their accuser the perpetrator. You could argue that in this case it could be either of them engaging in DARVO, but as mentioned before, we do know that Depp was in the position of power out of the two of them. The UK court found that Depp was most likely the aggressor and abuser, so why is it that the public are so convinced otherwise?
Who brought this into the public domain?
What is also pretty important when forming opinions about Depp and Heard is the fact that Heard did not bring either the UK or US case against Depp. There’s a pervasive narrative of Heard trying to destroy Depp’s reputation and his life but Heard has not voluntarily aired any of this. It was in 2016 that Heard filed for divorce and four days later filed a request for a restraining order – she did this without bringing public attention to it. The original UK trial was a libel trial that Depp brought into the public domain. Heard then subsequently wrote the OP-ed. Depp then brought the defamation case – which would be hilarious if any of this was funny because he has not been defamed in any way. In fact, quite the opposite has happened and the public have shown immense support for him. If anything, his reputation that he single-handedly destroyed himself has now been restored through this being publicly aired.
It is worth saying that previous relationships being abuse free are not evidence that abuse didn’t take place in another. Depp also clearly struggled with substance abuse in his relationship with Heard – which could have been the catalyst for his abuse – whereas this was (seemingly) not the case in his other relationships. The claims that Heard has been abusive in a former relationship have already been shown to be untrue – her former (female) partner has already stated that this was blown out of proportion due to misogyny and homophobia.
Male victims of domestic abuse
It is important to acknowledge that men can be victims of domestic abuse, but recognising the evidence of Depp’s abuse does not undermine that. Depp has become a symbol for those who want to have the conversation about male domestic violence victims, both in good and bad faith. It seems very misplaced that he appears to have become the poster boy for male victims of domestic violence when the evidence shows him as a perpetrator of it. The conversation about male victims of domestic violence is a really important one that we need to be having. However, people tend to bring up male victims A LOT when there is a conversation about the sheer volume of female victims. These people often do so not because they want to support male victims, but bring it up as a way to direct the conversations away from women and to undermine and detract from the damning statistics. What is actually needed is for both conversations to be had alongside each other, rather than denial of how massive the problem is of violence against women. There is room for acknowledging the scale of violence against women AND for discussing the male victims of domestic abuse and the stigma there is that prevents them from speaking up. Unfortunately, a lot of the loud voices shouting “what about men?!” aren’t interested in supporting male victims of abuse but in silencing female victims who are trying to bring awareness to the problem of gendered violence, which disproportionately affects women and girls.
What if there are no heroes here?
People like things to be simple and fit into neat categories. Good, bad. Right, wrong. Heroes, villains. But this case is quite obviously not black and white. What if there isn’t anyone good here? What if neither of them are heroes?
When the reality doesn’t fit our expectations, we start to doubt what is true. When we have built up narratives, stereotypes, and myths around domestic abuse and what we think victims and perpetrators look like and how we expect them to act, we start to doubt the words of survivors. When we don’t warm to a victim, we can be manipulated into moving to side with an offender – especially if we already have positive views about the accused perpetrator.
If after reading this you are still convinced that Amber Heard is a perpetrator – that’s fine. But you have to start seeing her as a victim too. You have to acknowledge that Johnny Depp has been abusive – because this isn’t debateable. And regardless of who you support or don’t support; regardless of what you believe to be the true story is here, one thing is for sure: this is showing a very ugly side to our society, and highlighting some truly huge issues in it. This trial has amplified voices that support dangerous and harmful narratives and opinions, and we mustn’t underestimate what effect that has on survivors of sexual assault, rape, and domestic abuse. Because it feels very hostile out there for victims right now, and everyone knows a victim whether they are aware of that or not. Women have already been shown to be pulling out of active court cases because of the abuse they have seen Amber Heard receive online, and the blind support for Johnny Depp no matter the evidence. Abuse victims are in your life, and we are watching the reactions of the people we love and the public at large, and what we are seeing is that not only may we be disbelieved, but we may be mocked and ridiculed too. We should be careful about where we want to be heading as a society, because this direction is not forward.