With a visibly bruised face, Amber Heard was hounded by media as she left a courthouse on May 27, where she was granted a restraining order against her estranged husband, Johnny Depp. Having just submitted a court document recounting the alleged altercation in which she specified that Depp threw a cell phone “pitcher style” at her face while inebriated, her distraught nature was understandable as she broke down in tears in her awaiting vehicle.
In a case ridden with accusations and serious consequences, how can we get past the he said, she said?
Heard’s claims against Depp are anything but minor. In her sworn declaration, she alleges “During the entirety of [their] relationship, Johnny has been verbally and physically abusive to [her].” She further adds that “[She] endured excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse from Johnny, which has included angry, hostile, humiliating and threatening assaults to [her] whenever [she] questioned his authority or disagreed with him.” It was noted in the declaration that “Depp has hit and kicked Heard on numerous occasions, has thrown objects at her, at one point nearly suffocated her to the point where she feared for her life.”
Unfortunately, this is a story all too common. With 1 in 4 women having experienced this, there isn’t a specific race or socio-economic class that domestic violence spares. Throughout the years, we’ve seen other high-profile cases from Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown to Rihanna and Chris Brown. In the instance of Heard and Depp, the case has become very convoluted. As Depp has staunchly denied any truth in Heard’s claims and has been backed by family members, it has become a textbook case of he said, she said. While the situation has created a polarizing effect amongst the public, it’s important to evaluate and question how we approach cases of domestic violence, including our perceptions of domestic violence in Hollywood.
You should always believe the victim. If a friend confided in you saying they have been a victim of domestic violence, would you not automatically believe them? Transfer the same situation to an A-list movie star, why does the public side with the accused? It may feel like we know a celebrity because we have been exposed to them so many times, but ultimately what we see is a curated image of what they want to present to the world. We don’t know what anyone is like behind closed doors. It’s our job to support victims of domestic violence, and leave the detective work and judgement up to law enforcement.
Ultimately, this is a private matter. While victims of domestic violence shouldn’t be ashamed of the situation, it is a matter that some may want to deal with privately. As Depp is as high-profile as they come, unfortunately Heard doesn’t have the option of much privacy. Imagine the entire world being privy to the intimate details of your relationship, your credibility as a person being called into question and your career at risk — all because you’re speaking out against a beloved actor. If anything good can come of this very public story, it’s to help bring widespread awareness to the issue of domestic violence.
The media is skewing the story. Critically thinking about what you’re reading is important. What kind of language is the publication using: do they refer to Depp as an Oscar-nominated actor and Heard as a housewife? The media can use specific language or comparative imagery to subtly spin a story. The media also loves to present information completely irrelevant to the situation. Some have referenced Heard’s bisexual orientation or how much money she earns compared to Depp, as if they have any relevance to the story other than to sway you into thinking the crime against the victim is somehow more understandable.
As the Heard vs. Depp case unfolds, we are likely to see the events plastered over the news every night. More details are bound to emerge that will no doubt complicate the case but if we can understand that victim shaming plays a prominent role in perpetuating domestic violence, we can begin to build a safe platform for victims to feel supported coming forward. While we may never know what actually happened in Heard and Depp’s private relationship, we can reflect on how society has reacted to the situation and learn from it.
If you or someone you know is involved in a domestic violence situation, please call 9-1-1, your local police or search online for the Victims Service Directory for more information.