Why we need to stop expecting the perfect victim to arrive… She is running late
Trigger Warning: Domestic and sexual violence.
“Courtroom porn and social media have turned innocent bystanders into a mass of mudslingers.” — Monica Lewinsky, 2022
You would have had to have been living on Mars to have missed the furore about Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, and the latest chapter in their legal wrangles, culminating in a divisive verdict.
In case you did miss it, here is a summary of what happened.
Who is Johnny Depp?
Kentucky-born and pushing 59, Johnny Depp is such a prolific big-name actor, Wikipedia has given his filmography its own page. Depp is also a producer and a musician. In 2012, Depp entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s highest paid actor ($75 million). Depp has won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor — Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Depp has also been nominated three times for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
Depp’s more well-known romantic relationships include Jennifer Grey, Sherilyn Fenn, Winona Ryder, Kate Moss, Vanessa Paradis and Amber Heard. Depp has two children with Paradis.
Depp has acknowledged past addiction issues.
“I investigated wine and spirits thoroughly, and they certainly investigated me as well, and we found out that we got along beautifully, but maybe too well.”
Depp is a guitarist, and has featured on songs by Oasis, Shane MacGowan, Iggy Pop, Vanessa Paradis, Aerosmith, Marilyn Manson, and The New Basement Tapes, among others. He also performed with Manson at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards in 2012. Depp played guitar on the soundtrack of his films Chocolat and Once Upon a Time in Mexico. In 2015, Depp formed the supergroup Hollywood Vampires with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry.
Who is Amber Heard?
Texas-born Amber Heard, is a 36 year old actress. Some of her film roles include Never Back Down (2008), Drive Angry (2011), The Rum Diary (2011), and for portraying the DC Extended Universe character Mera in Aquaman (2018) and its upcoming 2023 sequel.
Heard was in a relationship with photographer Tasya van Ree from 2008 to 2012, and married to actor Johnny Depp from 2015 to 2017. After going public with their relationship in 2017, Amber Heard and Elon Musk briefly parted ways before giving things another shot. In February 2018, an insider confirmed to Us Weekly that Heard and Musk had split for good.
In 2009, Heard was arrested for misdemeanor domestic violence at Seattle–Tacoma International Airport, Washington state after allegedly hitting van Ree. Heard appeared the next day in King County District Court, Seattle but was not charged. The arrest was made public in 2016 during Heard’s divorce proceedings from actor Johnny Depp. A statement was then issued by Heard’s publicist in which van Ree said that Heard had been “wrongfully” accused, that the incident had been “misinterpreted and over-sensationalized” and that she recalled “hints of misogynistic attitudes toward us which later appeared to be homophobic when they found out we were domestic partners and not just ‘friends’”. The female officer who conducted the arrest, who is openly lesbian herself, subsequently posted on Facebook to say, “I am so not homophobic or misogynistic! The arrest was made because an assault occurred (I witnessed it)”.
- Heard and Depp met on the set of The Rum Diary and began dating by 2012, once they had parted from their respective partners.
- In 2012, about a year after their courtship began, Depp resumed heavy drinking and drug use, according to Heard. As many testified, the two began fighting constantly. Heard states Depp began hitting her.
- Heard and Depp married in February 2015.
- Amber Heard filed for divorce and a restraining order in May 2016.
- In mid-August 2016, Heard and Depp reached a settlement. The settlement required Heard to withdraw a restraining order and an abuse case with the stipulation that she could never refile it. Heard stated her intent to split her settlement between the division of the ACLU that combats violence against women and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, although it does appear to have happened, or not in full anyway.
- In 2018, Depp sued News Group Newspapers, Ltd., after The Sun referred to him as a “wife beater.” Johnny Depp lost the case in July 2020. The judge found that on multiple occasions, Depp placed Heard in “fear for her life.” The judge maintained 12 of the 14 alleged assaults by Depp against Heard had occurred according to the ‘civil standard’. This means that under civil law, on the balance of probabilities, it was ‘more probable than not’ that the assaults occurred.
- Depp was denied an appeal to the judge’s decision, but in the meantime, he had already undertaken a defamation suit against Heard in the U.S. over her 2018 op-ed in the Washington Post.
- In early 2019, Depp filed a $50 million defamation suit over the article, arguing that her claims were “demonstrably false” and, further, “brought new damage to Mr. Depp’s reputation and career.”
- Heard filed to dismiss Depp’s case April 2019, offering new and horrific details about the alleged abuse.
- The case wasn’t dismissed, and Heard countersued for $100 million in August 2020, alleging Depp’s accusations about her making false allegations for publicity were intended to hurt her reputation.
- The trial opened on April 11 2022 at the Fairfax County Courthouse, with Judge Penney Azcarate presiding. The trial took place in Fairfax because the online edition of The Post is published via servers in the county, allowing Mr Depp to sue in that area.
- The trial was broadcast following an an order published on March 29, Circuit Court Judge in Fairfax County, Virginia Penney Azcarate established that a pool video system would be in place for the broadcast of the trial (see “Media” and C). Streaming of the proceedings was viewable.
The defamation action filed by Depp for $50 million in damages focused on the following:
- An op-ed published in the Washington Post by Amber Heard, which purported to be written from the perspective of “a public figure representing domestic abuse” and claimed that she “felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out” when she “spoke up against sexual violence.”
- Although Depp was never identified by name in the op-ed, it followed Heard’s public accusal of Depp as the perpetrator of domestic abuse in 2016 when a temnporary restraining order was obtained. The op-ed depended on the central premise that Heard was a domestic abuse victim and that Depp perpetrated domestic violence against her.
- The clear implication that Depp abused Heard is categorically and demonstrably false. The allegations made in 2016 formed part of an elaborate hoax in an attempt to generate positive publicity and advance her career. Heard has a history of domestic violence and is not the victim, but the perpetrator.
- Heard’s allegation in the op-ed that Depp is a domestic abuser is defamatory. Domestic violence is a crime of moral turpitude and this false implication jeaopardised Depp’s career as a film actor, while damaging his reputation as a public figure.
- When Heard first accused Depp of domestic violence on 27 May 2016, it was timed to coincide with the release of Depp’s film, Alice Through the Looking Glass. Depp alleges that movie roles were lost and that he faced public scorn. Heard knew what the impact of the op-ed would be, being an actress herself. Four days after the op-ed was first published on 18 December 2018, Disney announced it would be dropping Depp from the role of Captain Jack Sparrow in the multi-billion dollar Pirates of the Carribean franchise.
“When the allegations were made, when the allegations were rapidly circling the globe, telling people that I was a drunken, cocaine-fueled menace who beat women, suddenly in my 50s, it’s over.” — Johnny Depp, 2022
6. Heard published her op-ed with actual malice which was done in the knowledge that the allegations and evidence supplied in 2016 were false. The truth was that Heard violently abused Depp, just as she had previously abused a previous domestic partner. Heard revived the previous allegations to generate publicity for her role in Aquaman, which premiered across the United States and Virginia three days after the op-ed was published.
7. Depp brings the action to clear his name, restore his reputation, establish Heard’s legal liability for continuing a campaign to push a false narrative that he committed domestic violence against her, and seeks compensatory damages for reputational harm suffered. Depp also seeks an award of punitive damages, due to the wilfulness and maliciousness demonstrated in the publication of the op-ed.
Particulars of Heard’s counterclaim for $100 million in damages made in August 2020 are as follows:
- Before they were married, Depp threatened to kill and otherwise harm Heard in private messages to friends. The threats were realised in the form of rampant physical violence and abuse before and during the marriage. Heard only escaped the marriage after receiving a Domestic Violence Restraining Order from a California Court. Depp continued to victimise Heard by repeatedly telling friends in profanity-laced messages that he would destroy her, would never stop, and wanted her replaced on an upcoming film. This frivolous lawsuit continues that abuse and harassment. A false and defamatory smear campaign has been orchestrated by Depp and/or his agents, including false and defamatory statements being made to reporters accusing Heard of being a liar, a hoax artist and of the crime of perjury in an effort to ruin her life and career. Heard asserts that she was the victim throughout the relationship and during these ensuing attacks by Depp. Heard asks the court to hold Depp fully and finally accountable for his conduct and to end his abuse lodged from a position of wealth and power.
During the trial, Heard’s legal team publicly accused Depp for the first time of sexually assaulting the actress. They said he allegedly went on a bender in Australia in 2016, became physically violent, and then penetrated Heard with an alcohol bottle. A spokesperson for Depp denied the allegations, calling them “fabricated.”
Following the verdict, Depp’s legal team filed a motion to strike “inappropriate argument” by Heard’s team during close “that their decision in this case would send a message to every victim of domestic abuse everywhere.”
“Ruling against Amber here sends a message that no matter what you do as an abuse victim, you always have to do more. No matter what you document, you always have to document more.”
“No matter whom you tell, you always have to tell more people. No matter how honest you are about your own imperfections and your own shortcomings in a relationship, you have to be perfect in order for people to believe you.”
— Heard’s attorney Benjamin Rottenborn
Depp’s team claimed it improperly invites jury to focus on a larger social issue rather than the case itself. A request to make amendments to the verdict form was also made. Judge Azcarate refused to take up the motion and clarified that she can no longer consider the filing as the case has already been given over to the jury.
The judge and counsel for both parties reconvened to answer a question from the jury in regards to item C on the instructions for the Depp suit: “Does question number three pertain to the headline, ‘I spoke up against sexual violence and faced our culture’s wrath’, or does it pertain to the content of the statement (i.e. everything written in the op-ed). They agree that the question pertains to the headline.
The case against Heard
- Depp’s legal team played audio recordings that featured Heard admitting to hitting Depp and refusing to promise to stop instigating physical fights, calling him a “fucking baby” for attempting to defuse volatile arguments by leaving the room over his pleas that “there can be no physical violence,” trying to get him to stay in the room during a fight by saying she’ll die if he leaves, admitting she hurls pots and pans when angry, and mockingly saying that no one will believe him if he goes public as a victim of domestic violence.
- Depp’s lawyers highlighted the lack of witnesses who saw Depp hit Heard and a lack of medical records detailing any injuries. Vasquez said the actor enraged Heard by seeking a divorce in May 2016, after one year of marriage. “She didn’t just want a divorce. She wanted to ruin him,” Vasquez said during closing arguments.
- Heard’s most significant eyewitness is her own sister Whitney Henriquez, whose former colleague and roommate has claimed that Henriquez had moved out of Depp and Heard’s home because she was scared of her sister, and confided that Henriquez saw Heard attack Depp, not the other way around — an account corroborated by Depp’s bodyguard on duty.
- Several of Depp’s former partners have insisted he displayed no abusive behavior before Heard met him, when he was in his fifties, with Kate Moss called as a rebuttal witness in the trial.
“…Dr Hughes misrepresented the tests and the results she utilised in the evaluations. She misrepresented my testing and the results I obtained in my evaluation. And she provided testimony in a manner that presented her own opinions and the self-report of Ms Heard as facts.” — Dr Curry, a clinical and forensic psychologist, called to the stand by Depp’s team to rebut Dr Hughes’ evidence that Heard has PTSD.
Dr. Curry said that she evaluated Heard for about 12 hours, as well as completing a review of Heard’s prior medical and psychological records, photos, “multiple witness statements,” audio and video recordings.
“The results of Ms. Heard’s evaluation supported two diagnoses: borderline personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder,” Dr. Curry said, noting that Heard didn’t appear to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alleging that Heard exaggerated her claims of PTSD symptomology.
- A Bahamas estate manager stated she saw Depp with ‘bruised nose’ after actor said Heard ‘threw a can at him’
- Heard called Depp ‘a washed-up actor’ who would ‘die a fat, lonely old man’.
- Police officer says she saw no signs of domestic violence after alleged incident in LA.
The case against Depp
- During the trial, text messages Depp had sent friends were revealed under his cross-examination by Heard’s legal team.
‘I will fuck her her (sic) burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead’
“Lets burn Amber!!!”
“Let’s drown her before we burn her!!!”
— Depp to Paul Bettany in 2013, before he and Heard were married.
“I’ll smack the ugly c*nt around before I let her in.” — Depp, 2014
“I’m alright. Though, I never ever want to lay eyes on that filthy whore Amber.” — Depp, 2015
“We/I tend to do that.”
“I don’t want to be conditioned to continue that behaviour. Therefore I’ll put in heavy work with drink. I’m sorry for being less… I’m a fucking savage. I’ve got to lose that… Know that you are right I am well aware that I should have been bigger than the moment, and that it’ll never again manifest in negative experiences. It can be done.” — Depp, December 2014
“Mushy pointless dangling overused floppy fish market.” — Depp describing Heard’s body.
- Heard’s legal team presented photographs of her alleged injuries, of a passed-out Depp and of property destruction they claimed was caused by Depp.
- Heard’s attorney Ben Rottenborn stressed in closing aruments that it doesn’t matter whether the former spouses abused each other or whether Depp abused Heard multiple times,all that matters is whether there was a single instance of Depp abusing Heard.
- Heard’s defence was that Depp’s career difficulties were caused by his alcohol and drug use, not the op-ed piece.
- The court heard testimony about Mr Depp’s mental state from his psychiatrist Dr Alan Blaustein, who described the actor as being “paranoid” and said he admitted to having a “very chaotic” relationship with “lots of anger” toward Ms Heard. Dr Blaustein, met with Mr Depp 18 times between October 2014 and January 2015. Depp told him that there had been “rage and chaos” in other relationships prior to his relationship with Heard, including with the mother of his children Vanessa Paradis. Dr Blaustein said Depp described experiencing anxiety and also questioned if he had bipolar disorder. Depp had substance dependence issues with marijuana, alcohol and opiates including oxycontin.
“Mr Depp has behaviours that are consistent with someone that both has substance use disorder as well as behaviours of someone who is a perpetrator of intimate partner violence.” —Dr David Spiegel, who took the stand for Heard.
Depp testified that in March 2015, Heard threw a bottle at him, severing the top of his finger. Heard testified that the injury, which she said she did not witness because she had been given a sedative to sleep, came after Depp sexually assaulted her following a fight in which he accused her of sleeping with co-stars Billy Bob Thornton and Eddie Redmayne.
“At some point he’s on top of me, screaming I fucking hate you, you ruined my fucking life,” Heard testified. “I’m on the countertop, he had me by the neck and was on top of me.
“My back was on the countertop. I thought he was punching me. I felt this pressure on my pubic bone and I could feel his arm moving. It looked like he was punching me. I could just feel this pressure,” Heard said.
“I remember looking around the room, looking at all the broken bottles, broken glass and I remember not wanting to move because I didn’t know if it was broken, I didn’t know if the bottle that he had inside me was broken.” — Amber Heard, 2022
- Heard testified that she had insisted on a pre-nuptial agreement. “I wanted to eliminate any doubt in his mind and in other people’s minds. So I brought it up to him and brought it up to my therapist.” Depp was against the idea.
“He accused me of having one foot out.”
“…the only way out of this is death.”
“I diagnosed Ms Heard with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder… and the cause was the intimate partner violence by Mr Depp,” Dr Hughes, Clinical Psychologist, testifying for Heard’s defence on 3 May.
On June 1, 2022, following a trial in Fairfax County, Va. Circuit Court, a seven-person jury deliberated for approximately 13-hours and found Heard liable on three counts for the following statements, which Depp claimed were false and defamatory: (1) “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.” (2) “Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” (3) “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”
The jury separately found that Depp, through his lawyer Adam Waldman, defamed Heard in one of three counts in her countersuit.
For Depp’s claim, the jury considered seven questions, including whether Heard made or published three statements in the op-ed (which included the headline); if those statements imply or insinuate anything about Depp; and if so, whether they were false and/or made with actual malice. The jury found that Heard defamed Depp, acting with “malice,” when she described herself as a victim of domestic abuse.Depp was awarded $15 million in damages. Part of the award, the $5 million in punitive damages, will be automatically reduced to $350,000, in accordance with Virginia law.
Under Heard’s counterclaim, the jury considered six questions, including whether Waldman made the statements on Depp’s behalf, and whether they were false and/or made with actual malice. The jury found that Depp, through his lawyer Adam Waldman, defamed Heard in one of three counts in her counterclaim when he accused her of staging a “hoax” scene of abuse to which police were called at the couple’s home, awarding her $2 million.
Judge Azcarate ruled on 3rd June, that the names of the jurors — two women and five men, plus one female alternate and one male alternate — will remained sealed for a year, given the high-profile nature of the trial.
The Reaction — The backlash to #Me Too
“Amber Heard, sobbing on the witness stand, represents the red-pilled man’s most cynical fantasies of womanhood.” Jessa Crispin, Unherd, 2022
Men’s rights activists dispute that men as a group have institutional power and privilege and believe that men are victimized and disadvantaged relative to women, including in regard to what had been considered feminist concerns, such as domestic violence, pornography, prostitution, and sexism in mass media. Depp has become a poster-celeb for the cause, held up as an example that men can be victims of domestic violence. This case is also held up as an example showing that women can make false accusations.
The negativity and vitriol towards Heard during the trial and once the verdict was announced has been gleeful in its unpleasantness towards her.
Not considered to be the most sympathetic victim, Heard has admitted to not fulfilling her promise to donate a portion of her divorce settlement to charity due to financial difficulty and has been recorded saying she had hit Depp during their marriage. Much has been made of an incident described in court by a former member of Depp’s security team, where Heard allegedly defecated in Depp’s bed and blamed it on their dogs. The trial has brought into sharp focus the belief that survivors of abuse must adhere to a rigid set of standards in order to be believed.
Critics of Heard are not just male, however. Women were just as critical, but why?
The just-world hypothesis. The belief that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, that the world is fundamentally just. In rape trials, women jurors invoke the just-world hypothesis because they are overwhelmed by the unpredictability of sexual violence. Empathising with the survivor requires women to confront the possibility that they could be the next victim. Women look for reasons to believe they are different from the survivor as a way to calm their fears and convince themselves that they are safe as long as they make “better choices.”
Internalised misogyny is the prejudiced behaviour women project upon themselves and other women. This manifests in statements that claim, “I am not like other girls” due to the need to cater to the male gaze. Projecting these misogynistic claims is a result of a gnawing fear of being perceived as weak or incapable due to one’s association with femininity.
Where does this leave us?
One issue that may have created problems for Heard was that the case evolved from being about defamation into a case about abuse, which made it more complicated. The case also created conversation around the term “mutual abuse”, without countering that discussion with why the term is problematic.
“There is no such thing [as mutual abuse]. You have a primary aggressor and a primary victim,” she says. “What could be happening is you have a survivor doing what they need to do to defend themselves… but when you have clinicians framing it as ‘mutual abuse,’ it’s very harmful.” — Ruth Glenn, chief executive officer of National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)
Heard has reportedly faced death threats, as has the psychologist who testified on her behalf, who emerged from court to discover that her now-deleted WebMD page had been bombarded with negative reviews. Dr Spiegel wrote his own op-ed piece on the backlash he experienced following his testimony.
The reality is that saying that both Heard and Depp are both as bad as each other is not good enough. Heard was publicly mocked as she wept on the stand describing violence and sexual assault. Excuses were more readily made for Depp’s behaviour and he was viewed much more compassionately. The outcome was such that it made the op-ed feel eerily prophetic as opposed to defamatory, and that is very concerning for the future of women experiencing gendered violence and sexual assault, and the #MeToo movement as a whole.
“The principles of fairness we’re supposed to have internalized after rethinking how women of the ’90s and ’00s were treated have not necessarily reached everyone for Heard’s present-tense story. And while the cultural revisionism industry is trying to teach us lessons, not everyone is putting them into practice.” — Stephanie McNeal, Buzzfeed, 2022