The Blame Game

We Are Asking All the Wrong Questions in Cases of Domestic Violence

 

After a whirlwind romance that seemed made for Hollywood, iconic actor Johnny Depp married actress Amber Heard in 2015. But in a shocking plot twist right out of a made for TV movie, it seems the couple won’t be getting their happily ever after. Now Heard is not only filing for divorce, but alleging domestic abuse as well.

Ever since the relationship imploded, the news media has been plastered with images and information regarding the separation and headlines about Heard and Depp have dominated the media over the past several weeks. Among the most popular have been Heard’s allegations of ongoing physical and mental abuse against her now estranged husband, and the amount of victim blaming has been both alarming and excruciating to watch.  

Throughout her relationship with Depp and its subsequent demise, Heard has been called a liar, homewrecker, gold digger, and attention whore. In addition to trotting out many of the same tired chronicles that domestic abuse survivors have encountered for decades, such as accusations that they’re looking for financial rewards, several media sources have identified Heard’s bisexuality as a potential cause of the divorce. Not the alleged abuse, which she had photographed evidence of and witnesses, but her sexuality.

In reports about the abuse allegations, the actress is often described as Depp’s “bisexual wife” without any explanation of why exactly that detail is needed. Some publications wrote that Heard is “openly” bisexual or “admits” to being bisexual, which insinuates to the reader that there is something shameful about bisexuality.

All in all, there have been many of the same old questions that always seemed to be asked in domestic violence cases: “Why did she marry him?” Why did she stay with him?” “Why didn’t she go to the police?” “Why didn’t she just leave?”

However, the fact that we are still even asking these questions speaks volumes about how little the public understands about not only domestic violence, but the legal and emotional difficulties faced by victims confronting their abusers.  In sum, Amber Heard’s saga has been an example of the classic cycle of victim blaming and survivor shaming that seems to be inescapable in domestic violence cases.

Amber Heard did everything she was “supposed” to do as a victim of domestic abuse. As a young woman alleging domestic violence against one of the world’s most famous actors, Johnny Depp, she had no choice. After Depp allegedly threw a cellphone at her face, striking her in the eye, Heard immediately filed for a divorce. She went to court to request a temporary restraining order against Depp, which a judge granted. She submitted photographs of the bruises on her faces as evidence to bolster her claims. Her neighbor signed a declaration stating that the story was true, and that she witnessed Heard “crying, shaking and very afraid of Johnny.”

In statements made to the courts, Heard alleged that Depp was verbally and physically abusive to her for the entirety of their relationship, which began in 2012. She stated that there was a severe incident in December 2015 when she feared her life was in danger. Throughout the entire process, since the day she went public with her allegations, Heard has been steadfast and consistent in her claims. She has answered every question and provided every fact that has been demanded from her to the best of her ability. But despite Heard’s photographic evidence, her sworn statement, and her corroborating witness, the public’s reaction has been one of disbelief. While she is supposed to be the victim in this scenario, she has somehow become the one charged and placed on trial. Much of the media coverage around the case has focused on raising questions that purport to undercut Heard’s credibility.  

Others have come to Depp’s defense in the past weeks. Depp’s daughter Lily-Rose came to her father’s defense in a series of posts on Instagram calling him the “sweetest most loving person” she knows. Depp’s ex, Vanessa Paradis also spoke out on Depp’s behalf in a letter obtained by TMZ: “In all the years I have known Johnny, he has never been physically abusive with me and this looks nothing like the man I lived with for 14 wonderful years,” she wrote.

The hashtag #imwithjohnny is also popping up everywhere, most likely as countermeasures to the #IStandWithAmber and #imwithamber hashtags used to support the actress. All of the foregoing imply that Depp can’t be capable of the abuse Heard is alleging and, consequently, imply that Amber Heard is a liar.

But herein lies one of the most difficult truths about abusers: violent and abusive behaviors can exist in one relationship and not another. Abusers can be loving and kind to some people in their lives while also being violent toward others. It’s not inconceivable that Depp has been a wonderful father to his children, and was also abusive towards Heard. Just because one woman said he wasn’t abusive to her doesn’t negate Heard’s claims, it only means that dynamic did not exist in their relationship. The man behind some of our favorite movies and most iconic characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Edward Scissor Hands can also be capable of callous cruelty. Both these things can be true at the same time.

Domestic violence is a concern for women in all walks of life, even someone married to a multimillionaire like Depp. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States alone. During one year, this equates to more than 10 million women and men.

The victim blaming and shaming that Amber Heard is experiencing for all the world to see is common, while likely on a larger scale, to that experienced by most domestic abuse survivors. However, unlike Heard, most abuse victims find themselves in family or divorce court, fearful for their lives, and with limited financial resources.

Even more commonly, domestic violence victims often won’t even report their abusers. The most recent National Violence Against Women Survey, conducted by the USDOJ, found that only about an estimated 25% of domestic violence situations in the United States are reported to police. Such figures lead to more of the “Why?” questions discussed above, and the potential reasons are endless. It’s not unusual for women in abusive relationships to stay with their partners, or not report them, for reasons that are entirely their own. A few examples on the seemingly never ending list: It is very common for victims of domestic violence to want to protect their abusers and not involve police. They may not want their abusers to lose their jobs, or their reputations. In some cases, victims may be scared of retaliation by their abusers. Abuse survivors may be embarrassed and not want to be defined and stigmatized as victims. Maybe they love their partner. Maybe they think it will get better. Maybe they think they can help fix them. Maybe they don’t want to give up on their dreams for the future. Maybe they are scared of what will happen if they leave. And in most, if not all cases, many are likely fearful of the backlash they will receive and blame that will be placed on their shoulders for alleging to be a victim.

One of the most difficult aspects of policing domestic abuse is that it is almost always hidden from view. Allegations of abuse, especially in the modern era of trial in the court of public opinion and jury by social media, can be extremely traumatizing and stigmatizing for both parties. All too often, the result is no more than a “he said, she said;” rarely, if ever, is there documentation or hard evidence of the alleged abuse.

The bottom line is that in domestic violence cases, we are asking the wrong questions. According to the statistics, one in four women has or will be a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime. Around three women a day are killed by intimate partners. And yet, as overwhelmingly proved by the media and the public’s reaction to Amber Heard’s claims of abuse, we are still so hesitant to believe a woman when she comes forward; and here is the question we should truly be asking ourselves: Why?

Why are we so quick to question, and eager to blame, victims of domestic violence? Why are we so inclined to side with and so prone to defending their abusers?

And most importantly, why do we continue to be at all surprised when the majority of domestic violence cases go unreported until it is too late?


If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing domestic abuse or domestic violence, please know that you do not have to go through it alone. The National Domestic Violence Hotline’s highly-trained advocates are available to talk confidentially with anyone experiencing domestic violence, seeking resources or information, or questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship. The Hotline Number is 1-800-799-7233 or  1-800-787-3224 (TTY) and is available 24/7, 365 days a year. Additionally, if you’re ready to seek help but don’t feel comfortable talking with an advocate on the phone, or if it’s not safe for you to call, now there’s another option. The Hotline offers live chat service (IM-style) as a safe, completely private way to connect with a Hotline advocate and it’s available every day from 7:00 AM – 2:00 AM CT. Additional information regarding the Hotline can be found on their website (http://www.thehotline.org/).

You can find international hotlines here.


Mere, 20’s, recent graduate, almost lawyer, and pretend adult. She just finished Law School and took The Bar Exam so she hasn’t slept in about 3 and a half years, which basically explains her personality. She promises she is really nice, though… Once she’s had her coffee. Her hobbies include reading, being tired, car karaoke, and crying about fictional characters; she also did yoga once. 

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8 thoughts on “The Blame Game

    Sheila

    (September 14, 2016 - 12:37 pm)

    This article is so important. Thank you so much for writing it

      aliceofalsonso

      (September 15, 2016 - 7:05 am)

      Thank you so much for your comment and thank you so much for reading.!

    Johnny Depp Fan

    (September 14, 2016 - 6:02 pm)

    “Just because one woman said he wasn’t abusive to her doesn’t negate Heard’s claims”

    Actually, it was more than one woman.

      aliceofalsonso

      (September 15, 2016 - 7:10 am)

      I am aware that there was more than one female friend and/or ex partner of Johnny Depp’s that spoke in his defense. For the purposes of this article I used him most recent ex.
      And the fact that there was more than one woman does not negate the possibility that he could have been abusive in this particular relationship with Amber Heard. Like I said, that is the difficult about alleged abusers. They do not have to have exhibited a long history of domestic abuse to make one of their partners’ claims possibly valid.

    prudenceanastasia

    (September 16, 2016 - 9:06 pm)

    The problem with the article is equating this specific case with every case of not believing the alleged abused party. It would be possible to see it as a comment to society’s error if it hadn’t kept some facts hidden; facts that make most people question Heard’s claims. And those facts have nothing to do with Depp’s iconic characters.

    Before she went public with her accusations, Heard’s lawyers sent Depp’s legal team a letter in which they asked money to settle amicably and out of the public eye. I wish this fact was added to the article and explained. Heard may claim she didn’t know she didn’t have to ask spousal support but the fact of the matter is she was more that willing to keep the matter private if he paid her (and kept paying her). And to conclude, regardless of the fact she made the matter as public as possible by leaking her evidence to press/tabloids, in the end she ended up with no money even thoughtthat was her priority to not go public in the first place. Said letter is published. I think you can find it easily.

    Another fact missing from your article is her avoidance of anything in connection to the law; in the start she refused to give a report to the police (the police officers who went to crime scene were in his witnesses’ list), her lawyer said she would, then AH changed her mind again and never filed a report. Her reason? She still loved him and didn’t want to bury his career. That love only stopped her from going to the police though, that love never stopped her from leaking evidence, the video and the finger -and I’m sorry, but I honestly thought those evidence should be presented in the Court of Law, not on TMZ- not to mention her texts with his assistant that were never in her evidence’s list.

    And while I have more things to say about AH’s claims, and lies, I think it is strange you believe that it doesn’t matter his ex partners claimed he was never abusive to them, because he could have been abusive to her, but at the same time there’s no mention about her arrest for assaulting her ex partner in a public place. The arresting officer who was accused for misogyny and homophobia by Heard’s alleged victim and ex partner was a lesbian police officer. Both cases together, Heard’s arrest for domestic violence and Depp’s ex partners claiming he was never abusive to them show traits of character.

    And I’m going to close with her latest statement when Depp donated the money straight to the charities; she never said what he did was illegal, and because we have no inside to the terms of their divorce settlement and the fact she never went against that decision of his legally we can presume he had the right to do so, and she closed with the obvious lie that he “showed a newfound interest for these charities” when CHLA (Los Angeles Children’s Hospital) had given Depp an award for his help ten years prior. If I can’t question a woman/oher team/friends who can say such a blatand lie that can be debunked in seconds, what can I question?

    And I’m sorry, but I think the right place for this matter to be resolved would have been a court of Law, not tabloids or social media. Because in some people’s minds she will always be a liar, and in other people’s eyes he will always be an abuser. And one of the two may not be true. But her decision to withdraw her accusations and her PRO the day before the hearing (day after she finally gave her deposition after an order from the Judge) leads me to the conclusion her evidence may have been good enough for TMZ and people magazine but could never stand in the Court and under an expert’s examination.

    Basically, what I tried to say is that this specific case had many holes from the very beginning and that’s why I followed it closely and every day found it harder and harder to believe her. That doesn’t mean I have the same reaction to every domestic violence case. I think that believing an innocent man is an abuser is as hurtful and abuse itself.

    I hope you don’t mind my long comment, but I feel personally attacked when people claim the only reason I don’t believe Heard’s claims is internalised misogyny, sexism or a love towards Depp, when in fact it is her own actions.

      aliceofalsonso

      (September 18, 2016 - 11:33 pm)

      This article was not a personal attack on you or a personal attack on Johnny Depp or a personal attack on anyone.

      This article was meant to discuss the issue of how a vast majority of domestic abuse cases are handled in the U.S., with the alleged victims being the ones questioned and their actions put on trial instead of the alleged abusers, in the context of a current, popular case. In fact all the things that you pointed out, all the questions and issues you brought up are, for me, examples of that.

      I hope that you don’t mind that I am not going to go through your comment point by point, because my primary point still stands. In abuse cases, we are prone to question the alleged victims, not their alleged abusers. Some people may not have a problem with that. Some people may not see any issues with our erring on the side of skepticism when is comes to alleged abuse. I do, that is why I wrote the article.

        myminds

        (September 19, 2016 - 5:05 pm)

        According to the human’s right by the UN, he has the right to be presumed as innocent. So to question the ALLEGED abuser is against human’s right. Just don’t question anyone and let the legal process handles it. To write and article with a lot of false information or twist some facts to fit the narrative of the writer, and claim that you just wanna point out about how the DV case were handled is very wrong. If you don’t mean to personally attack Johnny Depp or this very case, at least, don’t try to twist anything in this case to fit your own narrative. (i.g. “Just because one woman said he wasn’t abusive to her doesn’t negate Heard’s claims” – I know you replied on the above comment that you know there are more than one ex partners, but you just mention his most recent one. But the thing is it’s not about you mention whom, but it’s about you twist it and write it so clearly that it’s just ‘ONE WOMAN’ or when you stated that “Her neighbor signed a declaration stating that the story was true”, when you should provide some facts that her neighbor is not only being her neighbor, but she’s also her bff who live rent-free in his condo which she requested in her PRO filling, and could continue to live there for free if she won the PRO or the fact that or when you stated that “She has answered every question and provided every fact that has been demanded from her to the best of her ability” which is absolutely not true since she avoided her deposition for more than 3 times.)

    aliceofalsonso

    (September 20, 2016 - 2:06 am)

    As a lawyer, I am well aware that Johnny Depp is innocent until proven guilty. That is the standard in the United States as well, not just from the United Nations.

    I feel that you are missing the point I was trying to make in my article, or “my narrative” as you call it. And yes, I will admit that this is based on my opinion. That is why they are called “perspective pieces.” My point was, why are people so concerned with looking at the behavior of victims to find something that implies THEIR guilt instead of examining the possible guilt of their alleged abusers? Why are the alleged victims so often the ones put on trial? Why is that something we are so inclined to do as a society?

    The points you are bringing up is nothing more than conjecture. I left a lot of accounts by the media out of this article for that reason, they are nothing more than conjecture. The only things that I included were things that I could personally verify through social media accounts from the named individuals (i.e. Depp’s daughter and his ex) and through court documents, which are public records. That’s because I’m not interested in playing the “he said, she said” game that so many of these cases come down to. I think it is a huge problem in our society that needs to be examined.

    Like I said, this article was not meant to be an attack on anyone. If you notice, I say nothing about whether or not I think Johnny Depp and Amber Heard did have an abusive relationship. That’s not the issue here. The issue is that the alleged victim is somehow the one on trial. And also like I said to another commenter, that might not be a problem for some people. It is for me. I think that when people who are experiencing domestic abuse look at what Amber Heard is going through, and what so many other abuse victims go through when they come forward, they will think “What is the point?” “Why should I come forward if I am not going to get any help?” And if you think that isn’t a problem, I challenge you to do some research of your own and look at the statistics. There is clearly a problem, at least in the U.S., where victims of abuse are not coming forward. And I think victim blaming is a huge part of that problem.

    You can dislike that I included Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in this article all you want, but when it comes down to it, its not really about them. Its so much bigger than them, its about domestic abuse victims and the challenges they face, and its about the problem of victim blaming.

Let us know what you think!