Note: Before you read, we want to preface this blog by saying that we are in no way saying that abuse cannot come from both partners in a relationship. It can, and it does. In any trial involving domestic abuse, it can be hard to tell what the truth is and we recognize that there are two sides to every story. This blog specifically focuses on whether or not Amber Heard should have been fined for defamation because she spoke up about her experiences of domestic abuse- not whether or not she was also abusive.
The Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp saga played out in the most public of forums. Through days of riveting testimony, the court of public opinion formed its own verdict long before the jury announced theirs. But the ruling was only the beginning. Did this trial serve to silence the voices of domestic abuse victims worldwide?
Depp vs. Heard: The Most Recent Battle
On June 1, a jury found Amber Heard liable of defaming her ex-husband, actor Johnny Depp. The accusations stem from a 2018 op-ed that Heard wrote for the Washington Post. In the op-ed, she does not explicitly name Depp, but talks about her role as a victim of domestic violence. Depp was enraged by the article and subsequently filed suit against Heard.
After a six-week televised American trial that became a media circus, Depp was awarded a $15 million judgment from the court. The same jury awarded Heard a much smaller victory, finding Depp liable of defaming her in one instance, but only awarded her $2 million.
This trial was only the most recent in a long-heated battle between the two.
Depp lost a similar case in the UK in 2020. In that case, Depp tried to sue a British tabloid for libel when they referred to him as a “wife-beater.” Both Depp and Heard testified in that case in front of a judge, laying out many of the same arguments used in the most recent case.
In the 2020 UK case, Heard accused Depp of 14 instances of verbal or physical abuse. The judge ruled that there was sufficient evidence of 12 of those instances. The judge ultimately rejected Depp’s libel claims, siding instead with the tabloid. The judge said that the accusations made by the tabloid, and therefore by Heard herself, were “substantially true.”
To reiterate: a British judge believed Heard. An American jury – which, we should note, was NOT sequestered during the weeks-long trial – did not.
The Trial Watched ‘Round the World
Humiliation and public shaming were commonplace during the televised trial. Many viewers and commentators took sides: either you believed superstar Johnny Depp, or you didn’t.
The backlash against Heard was swift and explosive, with social media salivating over the dramatic testimony.
While no one knows for sure what happened between the two, there were clear indications of abuse within the relationship. There were plenty of alleged instances of both physical and emotional abuse by Depp, including drug and alcohol-ridden binges that Heard says led to frightening situations.
Depp, in turn, represented himself as a victim, claiming that it was Heard who was the toxic one in the partnership.
Despite the evidence, Heard was ultimately the one who lost in the trial. Depp escaped looking like the victor, exiting the courthouse only to be greeted by throngs of adoring fans.
Heard, meanwhile, is left wondering how she will pay a $15 million judgment.
One could argue that Heard ultimately lost not in the court of law, but in the court of public opinion.
What Does the Verdict Mean for Other Abuse Survivors?
What’s done is done. But no matter what you believe about the Depp vs. Heard saga, this trial will have one frightening consequence: Victims will hesitate before coming forward in the future. In the end, the public shaming and backlash Heard received will inevitably cause current and future victims of domestic abuse to think twice about reporting their own abuse.
Domestic Abuse advocates spoke out against the trial and the ultimate verdict, calling it a major setback in the effort to protect victims. Some experts argue that Depp, with his wild popularity and extreme wealth and power, was not held accountable for his actions. Heard, meanwhile, was essentially punished for speaking out as a victim.
The unfortunate reality is that this trial served to undermine the voice of victims. Moving forward, will other victims stay silent out of fear of retaliation? Will this case discourage survivors from speaking out against abuse? Only time will tell.
If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, get help. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at thehotline.org or 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also contact your local domestic abuse shelter for support.