What Does Johnny Depp’s Court Win Against Amber Heard Mean for Domestic Violence Cases?
This week, the jury overseeing the defamation lawsuit between Johnny Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard (as well as her countersuit)
This week, the jury overseeing the defamation lawsuit between Johnny Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard (as well as her countersuit) came back with a verdict.
They found that Depp met the burden of proof for defamation and was awarded a total of $15M, well short of his filing for $50M. Heard however was also granted remedy in her countersuit to the tune of $2M, significantly short of her $100M claim.
Since then, and since the start over six weeks ago, the internet has been having a field day with the details of the court case. Most people have been taking the side of Depp, painting Heard as unbalanced and violent. But Heard also has her supporters, who believe her account and call supporters of Depp biased based on his popularity and ability to "turn on the charm."
Since the verdict came down, chatter has changed tenor.
What the Internet is Talking About
Since the verdict was read, the internet has been talking less about who's the abuser and who's at fault, and more about the lasting impacts of the results of the case.
Many online are suggesting that Depp's victory is a blow at women's rights. The #MeToo movement arose because womens' accounts of being sexually assaulted and abused were being ignored by the public and the justice system as a whole.
The movement launched initially to hold powerful Hollywood execs like Harvey Weinstein accountable, but evolved into an effort to make sure victims of assault and abuse were believed and supported.
Those who believe Heard are suggesting that her loss in court will make it harder for victims of abuse and domestic violence to come forward, saying that she's now been essentially silenced. What kicked off the whole lawsuit to begin with was an op-ed written by Heard that allegedly spilled the beans about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Depp. If everything she said were true, then those who suggest the verdict is a blow against victims would be right on the money.
However, as more evidence was released throughout the course of the case, it became clear that Heard was engaging in her own systematic abuse of Depp. While Depp wasn't innocent, many believe that he engaged in what is known as "reactive abuse," or the kind of abusive-like behavior that results from abuse that pushes your behavior beyond the bounds of normal.
While some consider that abuse in and of itself and suggest that makes them both abusers, many point to the fact that reactive abuse is actually the result of trauma and is engaged in as a coping behavior – making the person doing it the victim and not an equal abuser.
If the court case in fact proved that Heard was lying, that would mean Depp's win is a win for victims – just maybe not the ones advocates thought they'd see.
What This Really Means for the Future of DV Court Cases
Some worry – egged on by Heard and her lawyers – that Depp's win will make it less likely that victims will speak up, fearing they'll be run through the wringer like Heard was.
The problem is, that premise rests on the idea that Heard was the victim – which wasn't the point of the case and doesn't align with public opinion. But then, public opinion is fallible.
After all, when Heard first released the op-ed, people sided with her immediately. In the height of the #MeToo movement, Depp was immediately painted as an abuser and lost employment opportunities as well as the reputation he had enjoyed across the world as a good guy.
If Heard's account in the op-ed and her statements from the court case were true, Depp would be enjoying his just desserts. But unfortunately for Heard, even the evidence she herself submitted painted a far different picture – one where she was the aggressor and Depp was diving deeply into substance abuse to escape.
CNN writes, "Appearing on 'Today,' Heard's attorney, Elaine Charlson Bredehoft, said 'an enormous amount of evidence' that would have helped Heard's case was suppressed during the trial.
'That's because she was demonized here,' Bredehoft said of the verdict. 'A number of things were allowed in this court that should not have been allowed, and it caused the jury to be confused.'
In a subsequent interview with CNN's Kate Bouldan, Bredehoft said the jury ruled in Depp's favor on each of his claims, in part, because he had the advantages of 'wealth, power and fame.'
'I think that made a huge difference in this case. But it also said we're not going to believe women even when they have photos,' she said. 'Basically, unless she had pulled out her phone, her iPhone and videotaped him as he was beating her, she's not going to be believed, it didn't happen.'"
Unfortunately, the lawyer's comments ring hollow. Because Heard did record what she called abuse from Depp – but it didn't show her as the victim, it showed that she mercilessly hounded a man who sounded dazed, intoxicated, and desperate to escape conflict.
Evidence was brought forward during the court case that showed Depp's behavior was egregious as well though – texts to friends where he talked about killing Heard and times when he was physical against Heard, proving that neither spouse was innocent.
However, the overwhelming majority of evidence pointed to Heard as being the aggressor between the two, including a time when she taunted Depp on recording to report her as an abuser because he wouldn't be believed.
So what does the trial mean for domestic violence cases moving forward? Very little, if anything. While Heard's lawyers try to paint this as a women's rights disaster, the internet isn't buying it.
It wasn't a criminal case which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that one or the other was abuser – what the case proved was that accusing Depp of abuse in the way Heard did was defamatory. While it does suggest that perhaps the jury believed Depp, it doesn't punish Heard for speaking out against domestic violence – just for the statements that aren't true based on the preponderance of evidence.
It is a murky distinction, but there's not enough consequence to suggest that reprisals against Heard for her own behavior are enough to silence victims of domestic abuse. If anything, it highlights how often male victims of domestic abuse don't speak up. Depp's experience never would have seen the light of day if he hadn't needed to defend himself in court. Both have compelling evidence for violence they experienced at the hands of the other – but only one launched the first volley and tried to destroy the reputation of the other.
Heard's team has promised that they will appeal, but they will aim for a more private affair the next time around if their request is granted.