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Updated: Aug 22, 2022

For as long as I could, I put off writing about Johnny Depp’s defamation case against his ex-wife, Amber Heard. In all honesty, the trial made me so angry, I didn’t want to read about it, let alone write about it. However, since Depp won in the US, the media frenzy seems to have died down, and I’ve finally felt able to approach this divisive piece of news.

Putting those involved aside for a second, I have been disgusted by the way this trial has been treated as a source of entertainment; it was televised in the US as if it were just another reality TV show. Amidst the memes, tiktoks, and tweets, the seriousness of this toxic relationship seems to have been lost. In a movement that seemed to be a backlash against #MeToo, social media users made allegations of abuse into a laughing matter. No matter your opinion of those involved in the case, the social media response has done nothing to encourage the public to take claims of domestic and sexual violence seriously.

Getting back to the specifics of this trail, one of the elements that I never wrapped my head around was why Depp lost the UK libel lawsuit that he filed against The Sun, yet won a similar trial in the US. For those who aren’t familiar with the specifics, the tabloid The Sun called Depp a “wife beater”, and he sued the paper for defamation. Depp lost the case. There are a few reasons why the outcome of the trials was different. In America, Depp sued, not the paper that ‘defamed’ him, but Heard herself. In addition to this, Heard’s lawyer has claimed that much of the evidence used in the UK trial was “suppressed” in the US. However, the key difference between the two was that, in the US, the case was decided by a jury, not a judge.

Why would a jury be more likely to side with Depp? The main reason is that they are more susceptible to the tactics of lawyers. Judges, who are familiar with the techniques used by legal teams, are much less likely to fall for methods such as DARVO. Darvo stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender”. This is the method that Depp’s lawyers used in order to defend him. This defence is often used in sexual violence and domestic abuse trials, and it’s one of the reasons so many victims are afraid to take to the stand. The lawyers are trained, not merely to deny the charges, but to paint their client as the victim. In other words, they attack the person pressing charges in order to reverse the roles of victim and offender. In the Depp vs Heard case, this method worked effectively on the jury but, perhaps more importantly, on the wider public. The social media campaign against Amber Heard was savage and, in my opinion, the result of an intrinsically misogynistic society that fell for the narrative that’s been oppressing women for decades: that sexual violence and domestic abuse is our fault.

It’s not unreasonable to say that the social media campaign had an undue influence on the outcome of the trial, especially considering the jury didn’t have their phones removed from them. This is why this case feels so significant. It was not merely the court that prevented Depp from being found guilty in the US, it was us. The wider public. This knowledge could send me into an even deeper pit of despair over the outcome of the trial. Instead, I want to think about how we can view it positively. We’re all members of the general public, and we all have the power to change this narrative. My heart goes out to Amber Heard, but I hope that the injustice she has been dealt will inspire other women to push back against a society, and a court system, that is biased in favour of domestic and sexual abusers. I know it has me.

- Emily Handel

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