Warning: This article contains references to domestic violence and may be triggering for some readers. Help is available: 1800RESPECT.
On June 2, Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, and the cultural discourse around domestic violence were impacted by a courtroom decision in Virginia. As Macquarie Law School’s Julian Dight noted, “Depp won on all three counts of his defamation lawsuit and has been awarded a total of $US15 million in damages.”
Depp was suing Heard after she wrote a Washington Post article claiming that he was violent. The actor disagreed with these claims, stating that he was the one who was actually being domestically abused.
This case has been huge and discussed widely. As Dight expressed, “Broadcast live on YouTube from a courtroom in Virginia and amplified on social media as well as in newspapers and on television and radio in Australia, Depp v Heard has been hard to ignore.”
Because this lawsuit has been so big, it’s only natural that it’ll affect how we all discuss domestic violence going further.
But how will this court case influence these discussions? Well, I’m not a fortune teller, but I can make some educated guesses. So here’s how the cultural discourse about domestic violence might be impacted by Depp and Heard’s case.
More Men May Come Forward
“Tell people it was a fair fight and see what the jury and judge think. Tell the world, Johnny. Tell them, ‘I, Johnny Depp, I’m a victim, too, of domestic violence, and it was a fair fight,’ and see if people believe or side with you.” These words, belonging to Heard, were said to Depp and were played during the trial, as per NBC News.
And sadly, Heard is right. Most people don’t believe that men can be victims of domestic violence. This can be demonstrated in some of the answers that four call handlers at a UK charity that supports male victims of domestic abuse told a 2022 study. As one of the handlers expressed, “I have guys that call me and say ‘I can’t be a victim of domestic abuse. How would I be a victim, I am a police officer, I’m a judge, I’m a solicitor, I work in the field, I can’t be a victim.’”
Moreover, another handler said, “The police don’t see him as the victim, they see him as a perpetrator so it’s a continual cycle of the fact that they can’t be victims because they’re men so they must be perpetrators. I think society has always viewed men as being strong and women as being weak.”
Depp, throughout the trial, identified as being domestically abused. If this high-profile case helps more men come to terms with the fact that they’ve been domestically abused, that’s a good thing. If this case helps more people believe such men, that too is a good thing. There needs to be a cultural shift around this subject and this trial may have helped to move it just a little bit.
The End of the #MeToo Era
On May 20, VICE reported that the far-right media outlet The Daily Wire spent between $35,000 and $47,000 on social media ads that focused on the Depp v Heard trial. Most of these posts had an anti-Heard sentiment. One, posted by the political commentator Candace Owens, stated; “I hope that Johnny Depp bankrupts Amber Heard. It has been ridiculous what that woman has been allowed to do because she flew under the radar of the Me Too movement.”
But why would the far-right spend tens-of-thousands of dollars discussing this case? Well, maybe they didn’t want to just discredit Heard, they wanted to discredit every woman who says that they’ve been domestically abused. Cultural commentator Natalie Wynn certainly believes that something like this is true. In a tweet sharing the VICE article, she wrote, “Amber Heard vilification is already being used like Gamergate, a lure issue to funnel men into far-right politics via witch-hunting.”
Whether Depp intended to or not, this massively televised trial might have pushed some people towards alt-right beliefs. Moreover, his win might make some men less likely to believe women who’ve experienced domestic violence. “This is basically the end of MeToo,” psychologist Dr. Jessica Taylor told the Rolling Stone. “It’s the death of the whole movement.” And if that’s the case, then that’s truly devastating.