Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard: Could the controversial case harm domestic violence complainants?

A jury from Virginia, USA, concluded on Wednesday that Johnny Depp was defamed by Amber Heard In an opinion piece published in Washington Post in 2018 in which the actress described herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse,” without naming her ex-husband.

Amber Heard lost in the trial that Johnny Depp had initiated (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool photo via AP)
Amber Heard lost in the trial that Johnny Depp had initiated (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool photo via AP)

The jury of five men and two women ruled that The actress has to pay him compensation of US $ 15 million (US$10 million as compensation and US$5 million as damages), which will finally remain at US$10.35 million due to the limits established by law in Virginia for the amounts of damages. As for Heard’s counterclaim, also for defamation, the jury found that The actress must receive a compensation of US$2 million for statements made by Depp’s lawyer, Adam Waldman.

The verdict surprised some legal experts, especially as it follows Depp’s defeat in a similar case in the UK almost two years ago.. For Heard, the ruling was an almost total rejection of his testimony. The 58-year-old actor adamantly denied allegations of emotional, physical and sexual abuse that Heard says occurred at various times throughout their five-year relationship.

The jury sided with Depp and found the allegations to be false. In a statement, Heard, 36, said she was “heartbroken” by the ruling.. His team has said he will appeal, but in the court of public opinion it appeared that Heard already lost.

Most of the messages on social networks celebrated the ruling of the United States justice in favor of Johnny Depp
Most of the messages on social networks celebrated the ruling of the United States justice in favor of Johnny DeppTwitter / @quicabanal

During six weeks of trial, long before the jury returned its verdict, the Internet was established a sort of consensus that Heard was lying. His testimony was the subject of much ridicule, the hashtags Calling her a sociopath trended on Twitter and a petition to remove her from the upcoming movie sequel Aquaman received, until Friday, June 3, more than 4.4 million signatures. Also on TikTok, couples acted out some of the scenes of violence that Heard denounced on the stand, in an apparent effort to prove they were made up.

“I think that’s something we should be very clear about going forward: this trial has generated a lot of harassment towards Amber Heard”, said Nicole Bedera, a sociologist specializing in sexual violence. And she added: “It was shocking.”

Domestic violence experts like Bedera fear the deeply negative response to Heard will have repercussions far beyond the trial.

Many warn that Amber’s online abuse will have a devastating effect on the lives of other survivors and it will deter many people from reporting their experiences of abuse. “There are many survivors who will see their story reflected in this trial. And they will also be harmed by this case,” Bedera said. And he continued: “I think that many victims will now feel more insecure about the idea of ​​telling their case in the future.”

Domestic assaults tend to happen without a report. In the United States, only two out of five cases are reported to the police, according to the latest survey by the US Department of Justice. That same proportion Around 40% present complaints of violence within the couple.

Experts believe that the case of Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp will harm other victims of gender violence
Experts believe that the case of Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp will harm other victims of gender violence

“I think it has become clear that survivors are making rational decisions when they choose not to report their case,” said Alexandra Brodsky, civil rights attorney and author of the book Sexual Justice (“Sex Justice”). “A cost/benefit analysis is given and often that calculation shows them that it is better not to report”explained the expert. In that balance weighs heavily the fear of a painful investigation and trial, and the fear that no one will believe them.

Both were crystallized by the response to Heard, noted Kelly Sundberg, a professor at Ashland University and author of Goodbye Sweet Girl (“Goodbye sweet girl”), a memoir about her experience in an abusive relationship. “There is a reason most people keep their abuse private”, said. And he narrowed down: “Even if she [Heard] Had she won, this would have had a chilling effect on the victims, because nobody wants to be disbelieved and discredited like she was,” Sundberg said.

“If I had seen this kind of response before I wrote my book, I don’t think I would have felt safe publishing it,” express. “It was horrible,” Bedera added. “People called her a psychopath, a liar, they said she was crazy, that she was manipulative, they said he deserved what happened”.

In the last week of the trial, Heard, a single mother of a 1-year-old daughter, addressed in court the harassment and He claimed that he had received “hundreds of death threats regularly, if not daily.” “People want to kill me, they tell me every day. People want to put my baby in a microwave and they tell me,” she stated. “It’s been agony.”

During the trial, the court heard recordings of Heard appearing to mock and bully her former partner. In a video, The actress admits to “hitting” Depp before asking him not to be a “baby”.

Actor Johnny Depp was taken as the victim as the public demonized Amber Heard
Actor Johnny Depp was taken as the victim as the public demonized Amber Heard

“Tell the world, Johnny”, she demands in other images, captured in 2016. “Tell them: ‘I, Johnny Depp, a man, am also a victim of domestic violence.’ These recordings were often used as proof on social media that Heard was lying and that she was the “real” aggressor in their relationship.

But That same scrutiny didn’t seem to apply to Depp.. The court heard numerous witnesses – including one of his ex-girlfriends, actress Ellen Barkin – describe the actor’s alleged drug and alcohol abuse and violent tendencies.

In recorded audio, the jury heard Depp yelling insults and obscenities at Heard, and saw messages saying he wished his ex-wife dead. “There was a double standard, without a doubt”Bedera commented.

“Johnny Depp has also said some really horrible things. Text messages about the idea of ​​raping and murdering Amber Heard come to mind,” the expert said. “A lot of people were quick to say then that ‘it was just a joke.’”

Experts also fear that the legal path followed by Depp, filing a defamation case, could be used by perpetrators of abuse. “One thing that was really missed in the coverage is that Heard didn’t sue Depp for abuse.”said civil attorney Alexandra Brodsky. “It was Depp who sued Heard for saying she was abused, and not even by him.”

“It was Depp who sued Heard for saying she was abused, and not even by him,” Brodsky said.STEVE HELBER – AFP

Brodsky described a growing “horde” of lawyers and public relations consultants advising young people on how to clear their names after being accused of sexual assault in college. “A big part of that is defamation lawsuits, or at least threats of defamation lawsuits. We have seen how this strategy spreads”, he confirmed.

In this case, after six weeks of testimony, the jury unanimously ruled that Heard defamed Depp in her op-ed. “The jury gave me my life back,” the actor said in a statement after the verdict. But seeking damages for defamation becomes “alarming” when perpetrators use it as a public relations strategyBrodsky commented.

“The truth is that, No matter what happened at the end of the trial, Depp would have come out, at least to some people, as the hero.”, remarked the expert. “I’m really worried about the ‘copycat’ effect.” At the same time, these cases act as a deterrent for victims in general. “Someone sees his friend, classmate, or celebrity facing a defamation lawsuit and says, ‘I don’t want to deal with that,’” she concluded.

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