By Ben Thompson
When actress Amber Heard accused her then-husband Johnny Depp of domestic abuse in 2016, the public showed him little sympathy. As further allegations emerged against him, painting him as a controlling, violent alcoholic, his reputation took a nose-dive. Few would disagree that his career hasn’t been the same since, despite him continuing to land work.
However, recent developments have made many re-evaluate their opinion on the situation – and the role gender plays in domestic abuse narrative.
In the aftermath of their 2016 divorce, the couple released a statement that suggested they were on amicable terms, despite the turbulent nature of their relationship:
“Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. There was never an intent of physical or emotional harm. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gains.”
For a while, the public heard little more of the Depp-Heard situation. The decision to hire Depp to appear in J.K Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts films sparked massive backlash, but in the era of #MeToo, this was to be expected.
Recently, however, the case has been pushed back into the limelight after it was reported that Depp had filed a lawsuit against his ex-wife. The $50 million suit is in response to an article Heard penned for The Washington Post in 2018, which makes reference to the 2016 abuse allegations.
The law-suit, available for online viewing, is critical of Heard’s version of events:
‘Mr. Depp never abused Ms. Heard. Her allegations against him were false when they were made in 2016. They were part of a elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity for Ms. Heard and advance her career […] With a prior arrest for violent domestic abuse and having confessed under oath to a series of violent attacks on Mr. Depp, Ms. Heard is not a victim of domestic abuse; she is a perpetrator.’
It is true that Heard was previously arrested for domestic abuse in 2009. This was after she reportedly struck her then-girlfriend Tasya van Ree in an airport, following an argument. However, Ree asserts that the story was ‘mis-interpreted and over-sensationalised’.
These recent developments leave many in a difficult position.
In a era in which we frequently repeat the mantra ‘believe women’, does this mean that we dismiss men who accuse women of domestic abuse? Is this further complicated when both parties are accusing each other of misconduct?
More details are likely to emerge and shed more light on what really happened in the Depp-Heard household. One thing is for certain, though – society has come a long way in re-evaluating it’s attitude to domestic abuse, especially when men are the victim.
One third of domestic abuse victims are men, a figure that is probably higher that most people would expect, but because of the lack of awareness, the help that’s given to female victims often isn’t available for men.
ManKind, a charity dedicated to helping male victims of domestic abuse, reported that whilst one in six men will experience abuse, only one in twenty will seek help.
The shame associated with the abuse runs deep, and is representative of men’s fear at appearing vulnerable or weak. Looking at testimonies posted online, however, illustrates that their experiences are not to be dismissed:
‘Wife became very angry and she attacked me with a set of Porsche Keys – maybe three inches long. she stabbed me thirteen times. As I was trying to leave, she took our daughter and tried to throw her down the steps.’
‘I have been verbally and psychologically battered and abused, I’ve been threatened with bodily harm, I’ve been threatened to be shot right between the eyes, I’ve been kicked in the groin, I’ve had to watch while my ex sexually molested my daughter and not dare interfere for fear of retaliation.’
If there’s any silver lining to come out of the Depp-Heard debacle, then maybe it’s that it’s shown how far attitudes towards male victims have come. Depp has certainly received a good deal of public sympathy.
Depp and Heard’s situation seems complicated, however, and in time, we’ll likely learn more of what went down in their short-lived and toxic relationship. In the meantime, it seems best to reserve judgement until we have clarification of the facts.