Is it a real victory of Johnny Depp?20.06.2022
Although the defamation case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard was settled on June 1, the aftermath of this case is still ongoing. Both parties were found guilty of defamation by the jury, which awarded Depp $15 Million in damages and Heard $2 Million. Although it was a win for Johnny Depp, some feel that the verdict is a setback for survivors of abuse.
The jury found that Heard defamed Depp’s character in an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post in 2018. She did not name her ex-husband. Depp claimed that the statements she made were false and defamatory and that this must change. “Two decades ago, I was a public figure representing domestic violence, and I felt all the resentment of our culture for women who speak up. I had the rare opportunity to see, in real-time, how institutions protect men suspected of abuse.” (Heard had filed a temporary restraining or against Depp in 2016, accusing him of domestic violence.)
It is worth noting that in 2020, Depp lost his libel suit against The Sun, a British tabloid, for publishing an article that called him a “wife beater.” However, the defamation case against Heard in the United States was quite different.
The jury was not separated for the six-week-long, grueling trial that collected emails, texts messages, and secret audio recordings to shed light onto the marriage. And outside the Fairfax County coutroom, Depp was winning the support of the public as the #JusticeforJohnnyDepp movement grew in numbers.
These supporters consider the Depp-vs-Heard ruling a victory for male survivors from abuse. Depp released a statement on Instagram following the verdict: “From the beginning, the goal was to expose the truth, regardless what the outcome…I feel at ease knowing that I have finally achieved that.”
Kim Hawkins, a Vancouver-based lawyer who is also the executive director of Rise Women’s Legal Centre, said that it was difficult to imagine how abuse survivors, regardless of gender, could find comfort in this. This case was not about providing support or protection for abuse survivors. It was about defamation. Depp wasn’t representing male survivors of abuse as a group, or fighting for their rights.
Many people came forward in 2017 to speak out about the abuses they suffered in Hollywood, particularly by powerful men. It was widely viewed as a cultural shift in how we understand and talk about abuse. Paula Ethans, a Winnipeg lawyer, said that five years later, the public spectacle around this trial shows how little progress has been made. “This case is a reminder that #MeToo didn’t go too far. #MeToo did not take us where we needed to go.”
The trial could raise red flags for survivors of abuse. Ethans states that the entire lawsuit is an act DARVO. This acronym stands for deny attack and reverse victim and offenders and refers to situations in which a victim of abuse is positioned as the victim.
“Heard claimed she was a survivor from abuse in a 2018 piece — without naming Depp — and his reply was to deny attack via lawsuit. She says she will play the victim and claim that the damage done was to his reputation.”
“Victim blaming is the result of this tactic”, Hawkins states. She explains that “it’s not surprising it happened” and that the practice is not new. “But it’s a good thing when a high-profile situation like this is covered in the media. It helps to normalize and reinforce the strategy.”
This case also reinforces the fallacy that it is a perfect victim. A survivor who is weak, submissive and unflawed. Heard was clearly flawed. Her testimony of abuse became a meme. Her body language was examined and her mental illness was used to paint her as a villain.
It is not difficult to imagine that Canada could feel the effects of this case. According to a survey by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in 2022, 23% of respondents say that intimate partner violence is not their concern if it does not directly involve them.
Andrea Gunraj, vice-president of public engagement at The Canadian Women’s Foundation, says that such open and vitriolic reactions could discourage survivors from speaking up in their own lives. It might encourage people to publicly shame, blame, and discredit victims and further abuse them for speaking out.
Because Depp won in the court of public opinion long before the verdict was read, it is difficult to predict exactly where victims of abuse will be left. Ethans should be reminded that survivors need to be aware of this case. She explains, “Beware speaking out, beware facing your abuser.” “You could be hated, ostracized or crucified.”
All of us want to see good triumph over evil. But abuse is more complex than that. It exists in a gray area. Unfortunately, social media made it a spectacle. We all lost, no matter how much we want Johnny Depp to win.