**In her weekly column, Lucy Vine asks why we’re so ready to believe the ‘crazy woman’ myth... **
Can you hear that? That is the sound of everyone shutting the hell up. After a week of Johnny Depp’s team piping up to brand Amber Heard “a liar” “manipulative” “a gold digger” and generally body slamming a girl who already has a black eye, people are finally quietening. With the release of a devastating statement from Heard’s lawyers saying she suffered, “years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Johnny”, followed by more photos of injuries documented across their 15-month marriage – as well as texts that look to be from Depp’s personal assistant, Stephen Deuters confirming the abuse and admitting, “He kicked you […] It was disgusting and he knows it” – those who were so eager a few days ago to release those nasty, shaming statements about the actress, must be starting to worry that maybe they don’t know Depp so well after all.
It makes me so angry I could cry. We have a domestic violence problem in this country and yet, when faced with an opportunity to deal with something sensitively, we choose again and again to tear a potential victim down. Two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every single week in England and Wales. Every 30 seconds the police receive an emergency call relating to domestic abuse. Almost 30% of women have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16. And if that sounds like a lot, know that experts agree official statistics woefully underestimate the scale of abuse in this country.
In the days that followed Heard’s appearance in Los Angeles Superior Court on Friday 27 May – where she was granted a temporary restraining order against the husband she says she lives in fear of – the world went after her. Depp’s miserable chorus of defendants came out in force: his exes, Vanessa Paradis and Lori Anne Allison, his daughter Lily Rose, his bodyguards, friend Terry Gilliam, and the bewilderingly vicious attack from comedian Doug Stanthorpe in the article “Johnny Depp is Being Blackmailed by Amber Heard”, which called Heard a “manipulative asshole”, and her accusations “bullshit”. Despite nobody knowing anything – none of these people were there to see anything. The headlines followed, poking sneering holes in her story and pointing out how she was “PICTURED SMILING HOURS AFTER ‘ATTACK’”. She was snidely labelled a “POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL” by others, who painted her as a gold digger chasing Depp’s $400million. And if you were one of those asking why she didn’t call the police sooner – if this was happening to her as often as she says – know that on average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before she calls the police.
I understand the reaction. We feel like we know Depp. The year I was born, he starred in his very first major role, A Nightmare On Elm Street – so he has been famous for literally as long as I’ve been alive. I don’t want him to be a man who beats women either. It’s the same reason we’ve defended other celebrity men accused of crimes against women. We want to go watch Woody Allen films without thinking about his daughter’s molestation claims – “He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies.” We want to listen to Chris Brown’s music without feeling guilty that we read the police report and know how he tore into his girlfriend’s left ear with his teeth. We want to go to a Cee Lo Green concert without remembering he pleaded no contest to drugging his date and then tweeted about how it can’t be rape if the woman is unconscious. Before the number of witness accounts reached 57, a lot of people defended Bill Cosby too.
I’m not saying we should be attacking Johnny Depp – he deserves the presumption of innocence as much as anyone and none of us know what’s true. I’m saying we shouldn’t be attacking Amber Heard. Slating her, undermining her, laughing at her; these actions are so damaging and disturbing. And not just for her, but for every woman who has been or is currently a victim of domestic abuse. It is this exact disbelieving, horrible reaction that stops women speaking out, and – actually may well have stopped a woman coming forward this past week.
As Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, tells me, “The victim-blaming of Amber Heard could discourage other victims from coming forward and disclosing their abuse. It’s disturbing but true that the reaction to Heard – accusing her of lying, using sexist stereotypes like the “gold-digger”, blaming and shaming her – is actually a typical survivor experience. We need to get away from our ideas of typical victims or typical abusers; these myths are highly dangerous. Many abusers are popular and charismatic men with lots of friends willing to stick up for them without knowing the truth one way or another. The last thing we need is a high-profile case that reminds victims of the fact that if they come forward they may feel very alone.”
This is why her voice counts and our insidious, doubting voices do not. Let Amber be Heard.
With thanks to Women’s Aid for their contributions to this article. For more information or to find help, visit: www.womensaid.org.uk