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On Monday, actor Johnny Depp is set to return to the bar in the defamation lawsuit between him and his ex-wife, Amber Heard, which is taking place in Fairfax County, Virginia. Depp sued Heard over an op-ed she wrote in The Washington Post in 2018 about being a survivor of domestic violence. Heard did not name Depp in the To post trial, but Depp says his professional reputation was hurt nonetheless. Final arguments in the case are expected to begin this Friday.
On weekend edition On Sunday, sociologist Nicole Bedera, who specializes in sexual violence, spoke to NPR about the lawsuit and its implications for discussions of domestic violence — and why social media seems to have a lot more sympathy for the former. Pirates of the Caribbean star than for his ex-wife.
Public opinion seems to weigh much more heavily in favor of Depp than Heard. On TikTok on Monday morning, #IStandWithAmberHeard garnered around 8.2 million views, while #JusticeForJohnnyDepp got around 15. billion views. Why is there such a disparity?
“I think there are a lot of reasons for that,” Bedera said. “One of them that’s very simple and that we can’t ignore is that in a libel case, Johnny Depp comes first. And so his side of the story has been told in full. And a lot of people made their decision after the first week of the case or the third day of the case. But the other reason is that in online spaces we often see that men’s rights groups and other anti-feminist groups are better organized. We know that forums of men’s rights activists, for example, have been following the Heard case with great attention.”
Could it also be possible that audiences are more sympathetic towards Depp because he’s such a huge movie star and has been so well-liked on screen for decades?
Yes, Bedera answered. “It’s something I say often,” she continued. “We all think sexual violence is wrong and say we will believe and support survivors, until the perpetrator is someone we know and love. You don’t want to feel like you’re a bad person if you continue to love Pirates of the Caribbean.”
During the trial, Depp also accused Heard of assaulting him and claimed he was also a victim of domestic violence. It was something of a catalyst for men’s rights groups to rally behind Depp.
“In our society,” Bedera said, “we expect victims to fit a specific mold. We call this the perfect victim trope. aggression. And it’s very common in cases like this, where the perpetrators pretend that they are the real victims. They do something that psychologists call “DARVO”. “DARVO” is an acronym which stands for deny, attack and reverse the victim and the aggressor. And we see that very clearly in this case, where Johnny Depp denies – not that he was violent, he still admits that there was violence on his part in this relationship. But he denies that Amber Heard’s story is trustworthy, and instead says she drove him to violence.(In a 2016 essay series, Depp and fellow actor Paul Bettany discussed the idea of killing Heard, what he said on the stand was “abstract humor”. He also claimed on the stand that it was Heard who made their fights physical.)
Bedera also says she is concerned about the impact this lawsuit could have on victims of domestic violence and their willingness to come forward.
“That’s my biggest concern about this case, and I think it’s something that really got lost in the sensationalism around the trial,” she added. “Right now, [Depp’s] The team claims that if a woman comes forward and identifies herself as a survivor in public, it could be considered defamation.”
This could present risks for accusers who are not as well known as Depp and Heard.
“Absolutely, it’s already happening,” Bedera said. “According to a 2021 Know Your IX report, they found that among survivors who report to their universities, 23% are threatened with defamation lawsuits by their perpetrators, and 10% face some sort of retaliatory complaint on the campus.”
Depp’s reputation in Hollywood has already taken a hit. Last Thursday, Depp’s former agent said studios were less willing to work with him due to his “unprofessional behavior” and drug addiction rumors.
“One question I have right now, in our sort of post-#MeToo moment,” Bedera commented, “we’re trying to decide what the consequences of domestic violence should be. And the reality is that Johnny Depp faces to a lot of the consequences for committing acts of violence, not only towards Amber Heard, but also for her unstable behavior on set. And the people who work alongside her have a little clearer picture than someone watching him on TikTok and don’t know any of the people Johnny Depp and Amber Heard admit there was abuse in that relationship. The question is whether or not there should be consequences for that abuse. And that’s the fight that we are waging in public at the moment.