By Anonymous | Miscellaneous | June 18, 2022 |
By Anonymous | Miscellaneous | June 18, 2022 |
Publisher’s Note: The following piece comes via a long-time reader who first brought to our attention some of the details of this story two years ago, several months before the verdict was handed down in Depp v News Group Newspapers Ltd in the UK.
On the last day of the defamation trial Johnny Depp brought against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, I finally sat down and watched Amber’s testimony, and I cried.
I cried for Amber. I cried for myself. I cried for every other survivor of domestic abuse watching.
When I watched Amber testify, it was like watching myself. I was right back in the courtroom, where I suffered the same accusations and dismissals of my trauma. It horrifies me that our experiences are used as entertainment, our trauma turned into social media content, our lives into memes.
I went through a small-town version of what Amber has gone through. My trauma was not live-streamed to a global audience, but while there are many differences between my experience and Amber’s, I’m always struck by the similarities. Though my case was not a defamation trial, I still had to prove I was abused in court multiple times. Like Amber, I am not a “perfect victim,” because those don’t exist. My abuser knew it, and he made sure everyone else did too. My imperfections were the only ones that mattered. His were acceptable. Any evidence of me standing up for myself was used to demonstrate how we were “both toxic.” This is a phrase I have since learned is meaningless. Domestic abuse is always about power and control, and it is rooted in gender inequality. There is no such thing as mutual abuse.
I have PTSD related to domestic abuse that I have suffered since childhood, including the relationship that landed me in a courtroom. It makes it hard for me to remember things in exact detail, but I’ll tell you what I do remember:
I remember my abuser keeping his promise to use the court system to ruin me financially. I remember having my evidence—recordings, texts, photographs—dissected. I remember people saying this documentation proved that I had planned for years to fake evidence of abuse. I remember being interrogated to the point of tears on the stand the third time I had to prove the same abuse in court — and I did prove it.
I remember my abuser’s supporters in the courtroom, staring me down and laughing at the details I was forced to recount. I remember people telling me that my experiences weren’t ‘real abuse’. I remember being called a gold digger and a whore.
I remember feeling like I couldn’t live my life normally because I was repeatedly subjected to harassment. I remember someone taking screenshots of my private social media posts during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and sending them to my abuser. I remember being accused, in court, of ruining my abuser’s reputation, even though I didn’t mention his name. I remember the isolation I felt. I remember feeling powerless.
Do you know what else I remember? I remember a friend of mine texting me one night in 2019 that she had just met Amber Heard. Amber was working with a charity my friend was involved with. The night my friend met Amber, she ended up telling her my story. After I got that text, I called her, and she gave Amber the phone to talk to me. Amber didn’t just talk to me. She stayed on the phone for the better part of an hour, stepping away from the group of people she was with so she could listen to my story and offer me support and advice. Amber Heard, a celebrity, who regularly had to change her phone number, gave it to me, a stranger, so she could continue offering support. I have never forgotten her kindness.
It took me months to send Amber a text. I was nervous and I didn’t want to abuse the privilege of having her phone number. She texted me back and she supported me whenever I needed it. She was one of the few people who believed me, who said, “I am here, and we have to stand together.” Amber’s support got me through the tough moments when the people in my life who should have supported me told me they didn’t want to take sides.
I’ve heard people say a lot of things about Amber, and most of them don’t have first-hand experience with her.
Amber’s support was life-changing for me. I am not exaggerating when I say that it could have been the end of my life if I hadn’t had support like that. In a lifetime of repeated trauma and poverty, my court case was my lowest point. In many ways, it felt more traumatic than my actual abuse. When I was being questioned on the stand, later in 2019, before Amber ever took the stand in the UK or in Virginia, I thought about her and the support she was giving me. Knowing I had that support, just a text away from someone so influential, so supportive, changed the course of that proceeding. I felt taller. I felt stronger. While Amber wasn’t in the courtroom, I still felt like she was with me, helping me speak out. It might seem like a small thing, just texting, but to me it was everything.
In her testimony in court, Amber said, “Now, as I stand here today, I can’t have a career, I can’t even have people associate with me because of the threats and the attacks they have to endure. And I can’t do my charity work.” She can’t participate in advocacy on behalf of survivors like me because of the backlash it would cause. As someone who sees the value in her work and has experienced and benefitted from her support, this stands out to me as one of the many tragic consequences of her case. I know others are being deprived of her support, support that could change lives like it changed mine.
I have trouble reconciling that I have not been able to offer her the same support she gave me. What can I do against an ocean of hate? Do I speak out and risk the consequences, which could be orders of magnitude larger than when I spoke up for myself? I cannot even share the story of her support in DV survivor groups on social media without being attacked. I know I will likely never be able to convince Johnny Depp’s fans to believe Amber Heard. If the ample evidence made available through the UK and the US hearings, and Amber’s original TRO don’t do that, then perhaps nothing will. And yet, I cannot sit back and say nothing.
Amber is a public figure representing domestic abuse. She represents that to me. That is a truth the jury ignored, but it does not make it any less true. She was willing to use her position to support survivors who don’t have the platform that she does. The tidal wave of abuse she has faced in response to that sends a clear message to me about how survivors who speak up are still viewed in our society.
It is a shocking disappointment to me, as someone who saw the #MeToo movement and thought it was finally becoming safer to speak out. I thought things had changed and people were finally beginning to believe us, to understand that nobody would put themself through the humiliating, traumatic, financially crippling, and isolating process of speaking up about abuse. Survivors learn early on who their true friends are and are often disappointed to realize how alone they are. Seeing that movement become so prevalent gave me hope and made me feel safer. But now, it’s like someone has pressed the rewind button and the victim-blaming narratives we fought so hard against have been given new life.
As a survivor, I have watched, I have listened, and I have taken note. Amber had already experienced the cultural wrath we face when we speak out, but I don’t think any of us could have predicted the unprecedented level of abuse she would face online because of this trial, which was callously broadcast to the world. Amber has, yet again, faced that wrath head-on, while much of the world stood by and watched as if it’s a reality show. This is real. This is a real person, a woman who was abused and now is being victimized again for the sake of entertainment.
The fear of harassment, and now the threat of defamation lawsuits, makes me question speaking out. It’s the reason I can’t put my real name on this piece and why I am protecting my anonymity. But like Amber, I am a human being. I am a person. I am real. Neither one of us deserve to be harassed or attacked for speaking out about our lived experiences. We don’t deserve to have the institutions that are supposed to protect us and keep us safe, used, instead, to destroy us. We deserve to have a voice and to be free to speak out.
I stand with Amber Heard.
Header Image Source: Karwai Tang/WireImage via Getty Images