The trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard could be a turning point for men experiencing domestic violence

Johnny Depp (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool)
Johnny Depp (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool)

Beyond the celebrity intrigue and media frenzy, The high-profile court battle between actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard involves themes painfully familiar to many women and men.

The civil defamation case, which is due to conclude on May 27, 2022, focused on the discussion of domestic violence, experienced by an estimated 6.6 million women and 5.8 million men each year in the US.

A court will decide the merits of a defamation lawsuit Depp filed against Heard after she wrote an opinion piece on Washington Post describing her experience as a “public figure representing domestic violence”.

And as the libel case nears its conclusion, some men who say they have experienced domestic violence identified a defining moment in the trial.

Is that earlier this month a recording was played in the courtroom. There Heard is heard saying: “Tell people it was a fair fight and see what the jury and judge think. Tell the world, Johnny. Tell them: ‘I, Johnny Depp, am also a victim of domestic violence, and it was a fair fight,’ and see if people believe or side with you.”

After listening to this recording, Depp was asked on the stand how he responded when Heard told him to “tell the world” that he was a survivor of domestic violence. He told the courtroom: “Yes. I am.”

“When I first heard [sobre el caso], I was a bit surprised. I was like: ‘Wow. Who would have thought that this could happen to Johnny Depp?‘”, he recalled in dialogue with NBCnews Tony Enos, a Philadelphia pop singer who said he experienced domestic violence.

Amber Heard (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)
Amber Heard (REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein)

Enos works as a counselor to other men who have experienced domestic violence, and believes that Seeing a man perceived to be as powerful, rich and famous as Depp claim to have endured domestic violence has made him feel less alone.

Of every 2 women murdered, one is at the hands of her partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, or NCADV. Instead, 1 in 13 men is killed by their partner.

The focus of this trial provides an opportunity to openly discuss the nuances of this type of violence that are often overlooked and may empower some victims to feel less alone.

Heard testified that she “reactively” hit Depp while Depp “proactively” hit her. That is, she alleges that she hit her partner at the time only in self-defense or in defense of her sister. She recalled an incident from December 2015 in which she, she said she, Depp buried her head in a pillow and began to suffocate her. “I thought, ‘This is how I die,’” she said on the stand. “He’s going to kill me now. She’s going to kill me and she won’t even know it.”

Depp has denied physically abusing Heard or committing domestic abuse.

Mimi Sterling, executive director of The Family Place, a Dallas-based shelter and resource center for survivors of family violence, told NBCnews what some social work training describes the belief that “men may not experience domestic violence like women based on power dynamics”.

“Simply it is not accepted in our society, that men can be victimized in this waySterling said.

The truth is that Depp’s popularity seems to be growing, contrary to what is happening with Heard. Experts have raised concerns that the level of vitriol directed at Heard could push some survivors of domestic violence further into hiding.

Johnny Depp (Jim Watson/REUTERS)
Johnny Depp (Jim Watson/REUTERS)

Raven Jenerson, interim clinical director of the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), told NBCnews that all people, including victims, must work to relearn what it means to be masculine and how a masculine person should behave when faced with domestic violence. Stereotypes about how men should act and how they should deal with violent partners make more victims remain silent, experts said.

In opinion pieces like #MeToo is over if we don’t listen to ‘imperfect victims’ like Amber Heard, from Guardiansome question whether Heard’s treatment marks a turning point in the movement, noting that other powerful figures could try to emulate Depp’s comeback with litigation.

“We want people to know that there is no such thing as a perfect survivor. Perfection is relative.” Jenerson said.

On social media, male victims of domestic violence seem to be finding a place to unload and find support.

Searching for the terms “I am a survivor” and “Johnny Depp” on Twitter shows what they appear to be thousands of tweets from victims describing how empowered they have felt by the Depp case.

One user wrote: “I am a survivor and I stand with Johnny Depp because what happened to him happened to me too. The same level of depravity and willful malice.”

Experts believe that a powerful man coming forward in a high-profile, public trial that he is a victim of domestic abuse could have lasting benefits.

“It often takes high-profile cases, high-profile victims of anything, to bring about the change in our society and the change in perspective that is fundamental”Sterling said.

(With information from AP)

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