The Toxic Treatment Of Amber Heard Is Insulting To Those Reporting Domestic Abuse

The actress is in court with ex-husband Johnny Depp.

Amber Heard

by grazia |
Updated on

When I opened up my computer this morning and saw the photographs of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard arriving – separately – at court, the first thing I thought was ‘she looks great!’ Then I closed my computer again and had a word with myself. My natural instinct on seeing this blonde beauty in an elegant black dress and a scarlet scarf across her face was to think that this was an almost cinematic moment, her opportunity to show up to a trial and, in the process, show her naysayers that she was resolute in the face of adversity. But this isn’t cinema. Amber is not a glamorous femme fatale in some Hollywood film noir. She is in court to discuss the violence she claims to have been subjected to at the hands of her ex-husband (which he strenuously denies). You wouldn’t know it from Twitter.

First, a quick brief: for those of who haven’t followed this specific story, Johnny – star of Pirates of the Caribbean and Edward Scissorhands – is suing The Sun’s News Group Newspapers, along with the paper’s executive editor Dan Wootton for libel. The offending article: a 2018 news piece which referred to him as a ‘wife beater’, following Amber’s allegations of violence during their two-year marriage. Johnny denies the allegations, and alleges that Amber has been violent toward him in turn, which she also denies. It’s an ongoing case. No legal decisions have been made regarding who the court believes. And yet, many have already decided that Amber is the villain of the piece.

I typed ‘Amber Heard’ into the Twitter search bar and read the latest tweets. ‘Amber Heard is totally a master manipulator’, read one tweet this morning. She is accused by keyboard warriors of playing ‘dirty games’, and some hope ‘she gets what she deserves’. Positive tweets are outmatched by negative ones at a ratio of ten to one.

Why is she the subject of such a toxic response? They have both accused each other of abuse. The specific brand of criticism directed toward her reeks of misogyny. When women accuse men of violence, the response is often the same. People say they are lying, that they are doing it for the attention, enjoying the drama, manipulating the truth, exaggerating reality. They're all classic tropes.

Those who look at Amber and think that she is lying, or gaslighting, or manipulating, and then say so outwardly, are sending out a dangerous message. They are showing that their instinct is to believe the man without investigation and, therefore, that a woman’s voice is automatically less reliable. Women who are contemplating speaking out about their own experiences of abuse may think twice, therefore, about doing so. If their friends don’t believe Amber, will they truly believe them if they have themselves been assaulted? Will their own stories be dismissed and spun? Will they be painted as the villain too?

Some of Johnny's supporters would probably say that they mean well. People like Winona Ryder and Vanessa Paradis have spoken out in defence of their friend in the past - and are expected to do so again as part of this trial - and said that Johnny has always been kind, and never violent. But allegations of domestic violence are not an all-or-nothing scenario. Saying a man or a woman has never hurt you personally is not necessarily a defence of their character. Deciding that Amber should not be believed because you like Johnny’s films, or that he seems like a laugh, or because his friends like him, is a dangerous trap to fall into. It doesn't allow for any investigation of the allegations.

As an ongoing case, it’s complicated. We will see Johnny and Amber in court again and again as the weeks go by. Hopefully, the truth will out, and the consequences will be felt by the party against whom the evidence prevails. But before that day comes, remember that there is nothing to be lost in reserving judgement and waiting for clarity.

This isn’t a movie. There are no heroes or villains. There is only the truth, based on evidence. There are no winners in cases in which domestic violence is alleged. So we need to think twice before we tweet. About how we treat women who have made their claims public. About how we react to accusations of abuse. And, most importantly, about if we are a person to whom someone can come to for help.

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