Publicized Trials and the Impact on Future Victims of Domestic and Sexual Violence

Photo from NBC News Article. – Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. Pool via AP


The following article focuses on discussing a case that is highly controversial right now. Open biases coupled with social media have corroded public opinion. However, regardless of your opinion, this case will have an impact on future victims of domestic and sexual violence coming forward. The point of this article isn’t to assign guilt to either of the parties – it’s to discuss the way the public is reacting to a sensationalized trial.

If you visit social media or consume any news, the Johnny Depp versus Amber Heard defamation case is all over. With that comes public opinion. As stated in the beginning of the article, open biases absolutely influence how we are perceiving this trial. Johnny Depp is an icon. His name is internationally recognizable, and he has a massive fan base. Amber Heard is someone who could be considered more of a “rising star” in comparison to the level of fame that Depp has achieved.

In the court of public opinion, all of this is supposedly about “protecting the innocent victim.” But, the decision of who is innocent or not is usually based on superficial reasons – like Depp being an extremely famous actor. No one wants to believe that the actor they love could be an abuser in the same way that it is sometimes hard to accept that a family member or friend could be one. But the truth is that anyone can be an abuser, just like how anyone can be abused.

A popular opinion that has formed from this trial is that “men are finally speaking up about their abuse.” Men already speak up about the abuse they face – which is good. They should. All victims should if they can. It just isn’t sensationalized to this degree because it happens at the hand of another man. Terry Crews was assaulted and when he came forward, he was mocked and his overall masculinity was challenged. Brendan Fraser was blacklisted from Hollywood after he came forward. Anthony Rapp is still fighting against Kevin Spacey.

To be clear, this is not to say that women cannot be abusers to men. They can. They absolutely can. However, when focusing on abuse of men, it is important to understand that we have a cultural bias surrounding male abuse to begin with. When you hear about a teacher having sex with her 13-year-old male student, are you criticizing that too? Or are you excited for the boy? When you hear of situations about gay men and abuse within their relationship, do you believe them? Do you recognize that black men are vulnerable to abuse, too? Please start to include these scenarios into your discussions of male abuse. These cases are important but oftentimes trivialized because of our expectations of masculinity.

This case has been used to vilify Amber Heard to a degree that is absolutely unmatched by domestic violence cases perpetrated by men. Some situations that come to mind include Chris Brown, Drake, James Franco, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Tommy Lee, Ansel Elgort, and so, so, so many more. These men and their careers have flourished even with these accusations and charges. Regardless of the outcome of this trial, Amber Heard won’t have a career or life that does the same. She will not have the same life after this trial. She could be guilty of abuse, she could be lying, she could be innocent. It doesn’t really matter at this point what is found in court. This is because the public perception of her is that she is “another evil woman out to destroy a successful man’s life.”

This is a phrase we’ve heard before when powerful men are accused.

Now, Johnny Depp did allegedly lose movie deals and money from being accused of domestic violence. However, he has not ever been as villainized as Heard has been in the past few months. As of now, Depp is also in the process of signing movie contracts – so his acting career will absolutely continue. It will continue no matter what the verdict of the trial is because the court of public opinion has already decided that he should be absolved of any guilt. This is not to say that he is guilty, just that he will not face any more “backlash” from being accused.

Additionally, because this is a trial that is being aired all over social media, it opens the door for people to make a massive mockery of it. People are making videos making fun of Heard’s sexual assault statement. Videos of her recounting the abuse she may have faced are being picked apart and turned into internet memes.

At this point, it doesn’t necessarily matter if you believe her or not. What matters is if you’re engaging with the people making a mockery of her claims. Amber Heard will not personally see the things you are saying about her abuse claims. But your friend, neighbor, coworker, or family member will. And if they have a similar story, you are essentially proving to them that you will not believe them.

This case has a lot of nuances. Abuse is not always black and white. At the end of the day, though, this trial is going to impact the future of people coming forward with abuse claims. Particularly women. As a woman, it is already difficult to get people to believe you over the fear of “false claims.” But the truth is that false allegations of rape are extremely rare. False rape and abuse allegations occur less often than other false crime reports.

Men, if you are abused, please come forward and please speak up. It is so important that you do so to break the stigma surrounding men and sexual and domestic violence. You are not alone. But using cases of male sexual assault or abuse to discredit the experiences of women is counterproductive.

Believe survivors. Don’t make jokes out of abuse cases. Don’t treat domestic violence and sexual assault cases like sporting events by rooting for your “favorite” person to win. There is no “right way” to react to abuse, and unfortunately, you won’t know how you would react until you are put in that position.

This article reflects the opinions of Anniston Weber and not necessarily all of the Options’ staff.

If you need any additional information, have a question, or a concern, feel free to reach out to Options at our 24-hour toll-free helpline 800-794-4624. You can also reach an advocate via text by texting HOPE to 847411 or click 24-Hour Chat with Options.

Written by Anniston Weber