In an August 2016 message to his agent Johnny Depp wrote of his exwife Amber Heard: Shes begging for total global humiliation. Shes gonna get it. This May in Virginias Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse the Pirates of Caribbean star got his wish in a defamation lawsuit against Heard who he married in 2015 and divorced 15 months later. Following a sixweek trial and less than three days of deliberation a jury ruled Heard had defamed her exhusband when she referred to herself without naming him as a public figure representing domestic abuse in a 2018 Washington Post oped titled: I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our cultures wrath. That has to change.
The title was almost prophetic given what she endured this year in what one writer deemed one of the most toxic and terrifying eruptions of cultural misogyny that Ive seen in my lifetime. Throughout the trial the scale of vitriol lobbed at Heard became so immense that The New York Times among other publications and experts suggested the worlds first trial by TikTok could signal the death of #MeToo. After five years of anticipation: its now clear: The longawaited and muchdreaded backlash to the Me Too movement is here Constance Grady wrote for Vox.
Its only fitting that the cultural moment that began with women speaking out against the powerful men who they say hurt them announced its end by the courts finding in favour of one of those men. Martha Gill echoed the sentiment in a piece for The Guardian: The public reaction to the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial is what #MeToo backlash looks like. Instead what the greatest takeaway should be from this entire saga is that its not #MeToo thats dead but the legal system. The same system as #MeToo founder Tarana Burke wrote in a statement after the DeppHeard verdict was delivered that yall have been relying on for justice and accountability for decades to no avail.
Heard may be the picture of privilege – white rich blonde and beautiful. The trial may have been sensationalised and memefied and splashed across the pages of tabloids playing out at a scale that wed never witnessed before. But the way she has been treated – by the legal system by Depps legion of fans by the media – all for not fitting a particular version of victim is an affirmation of a reality that hundreds of thousands of women continue to face. The verdict and the online response to Amber Heard tells me that there is still a fundamental misunderstanding of intimate partner and sexual violence and how survivors respond to it Western Sydney Universitys Dr Ashlee Gore told news.com.au.
Im concerned the impact of the trial has actually further distorted survivors experiences in the publics imagination. Before a verdict had even been reached domestic and sexual violence advocacy groups and experts in the US reported hundreds of survivors wishing to retract public statements theyd made in the press about their abusers or pulling out of court cases against them. Lots of women told me that they were retracting from cases that they were deciding to drop action or were deciding not to report their abusers at all psychologist and founder of VictimFocus Jessica Taylor told The Washington Post.
They all said that it had shown them a side of the justice system that scared them and made them feel as though they would never be the perfect victim. Here at home Full Stop Australia CEO Hayley Foster previously told news.com.au many many survivors had called the services counselling lines in distress just at the commentary throughout the trial. Or perhaps in the fear that they like Heard would be vilified for being an imperfect victim if their own complaints ever made it to court.
When [Heard] didnt have photographs of the abuse it was proof she was lying. When she did it meant she faked them. When she had no witness accounts it meant the violence never happened; when she did it was proof she planned a grand conspiracy to bring Depp down Rayne Fisher Quann wrote in her essay Whos Afraid of Amber Heard? She was too loving at some points too cruel at others; either so calm and collected that she must be lying or so distraught and uncertain that she must not know what shes talking about. Amber Heard might not be a perfect victim but she sure as hell is a typical one.
In a fourslide Instagram post announcing that shed made the very difficult decision to settle with Depp on December 20 finally bringing the case to a close Heard herself acknowledged that the vilification I have faced on social media is an amplified version of the ways in which women are revictimised when they come forward. I was exposed to a type of humiliation that I simply cannot relive. Even if my US appeal is successful the best outcome would be a retrial where a new jury would have to consider the evidence again. I simply cannot go through that for a third time she went on.
For too many years I have been caged in an arduous and expensive legal process which has shown itself unable to protect me and my right to free speech. I cannot afford to risk an impossible bill – one that is not just financial but also psychological physical and emotional. Women shouldnt have to face abuse or bankruptcy for speaking her truth but unfortunately it is not uncommon. Ultimately Dr Gore said to say that Depps victory over Heard signals the death or the end of #MeToo I think is an enabling fiction.
If the standard metric by which the progress of the #MeToo Movement is measured is the conviction of highprofile men then #MeToo was dead in the water from the start she said. The foundations of the #MeToo Movement run much deeper than this … The founders believe that its crucial for survivors of sexual abuse to understand that they are not alone in their experience. In connecting these common experiences we confront the ubiquity of domestic and sexual violence challenge the selfblame that many survivors have been taught to feel and foster community action for prevention.