Depp v Heard Verdict
After weeks of testimony, the verdict in the Depp v Heard defamation trial was decided on June 1.
Although the jury determined both parties liable for defamation, the decision found Heard defamed Depp in three statements. He was awarded $15 million across compensatory and punitive damages. Heard was awarded $2 million in damages for one statement made by Depp’s attorney that was identified as defamation.
Legal pundits and social media influencers have celebrated the jury’s verdict as a categorical win for Depp. Crowds gathered outside the courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia after the decision to applaud and cheer. Experts in missions to support survivors of intimate partner abuse soon began to offer another perspective, and major media outlets have followed the lead.
PERFECT VICTIM MYTH
The idea of the “perfect victim” has begun to be explored in recent media stories. Maybe you’ve struggled with this myth, too. Have you ever thought someone was too angry or didn’t seem sad enough when they shared stories with you about their trauma?
Our interpretation of a victim’s behavior or choices often informs whether we believe them. Consider, for example, the persistent belief that women who have been sexually assaulted while wearing revealing clothing or drinking are culpable.
Although neither Heard nor Depp easily fit social expectations for survivors of intimate partner abuse, public sentiment faired more positive for Depp. Social media users were especially disparaging of Heard. She was mocked for staying, hitting, belittling, manipulation, and physical violence.
Despite the same being revealed in testimony related to Depp’s behavior, the #justiceforjohnny hashtag was used more than 10 million times on social media during the trial.
Violence by both parties was often described as “mutual abuse” during testimony.
“Domestic abuse, in particular, is messy and complicated,” writes Eliana Dockterman for Time. “The victim often stays with the perpetrator fearing economic, social, or physical repercussions. Sometimes the victim fights back. And victims can be flawed: They don’t need to be pure or sober to tell the truth.”
Research and practice find that intimate partner abuse can best be understood by identifying the primary aggressor. This determination isn’t just related to physical size or strength. More often than not, the primary aggressor is the partner with more financial power and social influence to maintain control of the other partner.
THERE IS HOPE
Ruth Glenn, CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, was interviewed during PBS NewsHour after the verdict. When asked for her reflections on the decision, Glenn responded:
“What we witnessed during this case in the courtroom, and certainly outside of the courtroom, was a miscarriage of understanding the dynamics of domestic violence.”
Advocates and survivors have gone on record with Rolling Stone and CBS News to express concerns the court proceedings, public response, and subsequent verdict will discourage victims from coming forward and seeking support.
“There is hope,” reminds Glenn. “We’re going to have to keep moving forward in allowing victims and survivors to have their voice and talk about the abuse that they have endured.”
(Featured image from NPR.org)