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Depp vs. Heard - A Larger Conversation

It has been almost a year since the trial of the century captivated the world, and there’s a very real reason why so many people are still talking about Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. While the general consensus is that it was nothing more than a waste of US taxpayers’ money and merely a squabble among two people clearly not right for each other, there is a simple truth as to why it still holds the attention of millions of people… It has started a very significant conversation about a topic that our legal and justice systems would rather remain ignorant to… false allegations of domestic violence.


In April of 2022, the world watched as the intimate details of a very toxic relationship were made public. The trial itself rested on the overarching question in this case – Did Amber Heard defame Johnny Depp in her 2018 Washington Post op-ed? The op-ed in question reiterated allegations of domestic abuse first made when Heard divorced Depp in 2016 and also claimed, for the first time, that Heard was the survivor of sexual abuse. On June 1st, a jury of 7 peers found Heard had indeed defamed Depp on 3 counts, while simultaneously finding Depp had defamed Heard on one count through his lawyer Adam Waldman. Ultimately, in the eyes of the jury and in the court of public opinion, Johnny Depp was vindicated and Amber Heard became, arguably, the most hated woman on the planet. But why?


The answer lies at the forefront of a larger conversation about the gender bias which exists around cases of domestic violence and the myth that women do not make false allegations of domestic violence post-separation for personal gain. Amber Heard was found to have both manipulated the then-current socio-political climate surrounding the ‘Me Too’ movement and to have painted herself as a brave and noble victim of domestic violence… despite having perpetrated domestic violence upon Depp. During the trial, Heard’s mental health and personality characteristics were brought into question, with Dr. Shannon Curry identifying Heard as suffering from Borderline and Histrionic Personality Disorder. There is much to be said of women suffering from personality disorders as key players in the conversation around false allegations of abuse, however, it is the truly vindictive and narcissistic woman who destroys the lives of others by alleging domestic and sexual violence against a former partner that they themselves have perpetrated domestic violence and coercive control against. These cases are considered rare, but they do happen. My research into this topic has rendered eye-opening conversations with counsellors at mediation centres who reveal a high prevalence of men coping with financial ruin or struggling to gain access to their children because of false allegations of domestic violence levied against them by mothers. The intent behind these accusations is clear – coercive control. And despite a monetary motive as opposed to a familial one, Amber Heard is the ultimate example.


Domestic violence is a very serious issue which needs more attention. It is an issue that has severe and lasting impacts upon both women and men and, most significantly, children in intimate partner relationships. And if there is one thing that the Depp vs. Heard trial has highlighted, it is that victims of domestic violence do not conform to the gender roles that judicial and legal systems have defined. In fact, under the current definitions of domestic violence, if you have ever yelled at your partner, or if you have checked up on their whereabouts on social media, you have perpetrated domestic violence. Hence, one truth is clear about the defamation case – Depp and Heard were abusive and violent towards each other. But for Heard to rise to the position of what she was claiming, particularly as her story continued to evolve over time, while simultaneously denying her role in the perpetration of abuse on Depp, highlighted her inability to take responsibility for her part in an abusive dynamic. This seriously damaged her credibility and integrity in the eyes of the public. Heard claimed “I could never hurt Johnny”, “I never instigated physical abuse”, “Tell the world, I, Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim too of domestic violence and see how many people believe or side with you.” However, she was caught admitting to initiating physical fights and striking Depp on tape… revelations that served to catapult ‘men as victims of domestic violence’ into the public conversation while also bringing into question the current trope of ‘believe all women.’


Domestic violence victims are both men and women… but there are women who understand that in divorce proceedings, they can operate from a position of legal strength when they make false allegations of domestic violence. Even more concerning, there are women who take advantage of this fact. In the case of the aforementioned defamation trial, it can be concluded that Heard’s allegations served to advance her own celebrity status and gain monetary advantage from Depp. But when false allegations involve children, the impacts are far-reaching and have severe and lasting impacts on the emotional wellbeing and psychological development of the child, particularly when mothers who have made false allegations of domestic violence continue to perpetuate domestic violence through coercive control and parental alienation. A common element of false accusations of domestic violence, as seen in the Deep vs. Heard case is the evolution and trajectory of the abuse narrative. Has the alleged abuse escalated with each telling? Does the story evolve and change? The truth is easy to remember, lies are much harder and false accusations can be incredibly hard to keep track of as time wears on. This was Heard’s ultimate undoing.


Ultimately, the Depp vs. Heard trial was considerably significant in the part it played in the domestic violence conversation. Male victims must be taken seriously, female victims must be taken seriously… but the first party to allege domestic violence should never be prioritised in the judicial and legal systems. The current climate places men (because men are routinely identified as perpetrators of abuse in the eyes of the court) in a position of ‘guilty until proven innocent’ which serves to destroy their lives while fighting a ‘he said, she said’ battle…and there are not many men who can afford to pay millions of dollars to avenge their name against slanderous accusations. Men can and are victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, just as women are victims and perpetrators. But before legal and socio-political parity between the sexes in this conversation can be achieved, gender bias must be removed. Otherwise, we risk enabling true perpetrators of domestic violence to continue the cycle of abuse… In the meantime, Amber Heard is one perpetrator facing justice for her lies… who will be next?


Written by Megan Adler. BA/BCMS (DS), MTeach (Sec)

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