Depp V. Heard: What does it mean for domestic abuse victims?

TW: Topics of domestic/sexual abuse

It seems as if everyone has been reacting to or discussing the Depp V Heard trial, with most picking a side in this high-profile, celebrity court case. This case can’t be brushed off as celebrity drama as it brings to light discussions of domestic abuse with people struggling to find ‘the bad guy’, a controversial perspective in a case such as this. Being cornered into picking a side means having to align oneself with someone
accused of involvement in life-altering offences.

The talking points and accusations often lead to a debate on which individual offences are worse, and so
the argument has become polarized. To avoid feeling undermined, people will really stick to their guns,
and it’s creating an environment that suggests that certain accusations can be overlooked in the heat of a
debate. This situation may be forcing victims of domestic abuse into confronting a new reality about the online landscape, and particularly, about how their friends and social circles may react to them speaking up. The danger comes when an already venerable community sees the echo of their story, spoken by a representative figure, torn down and mocked by the people they know, it can frighten them into remaining silent.

Both Depp and Heard are so easy to reduce to characters because it’s a celebrity trial for two
actors, and the reception was like that of a red-carpet attendance or performance in a movie. They are
well dressed, well spoken, stylised, and presented undoubtedly with public opinion in mind. Gifs, edits,
memes and TikTok edits have gone beyond reasonable and the public’s speculations on Camille Vasquez
being in an intimate relationship with Depp,
or the petition to sign her as the new Mera in
Aquaman for example, have shown the bleeding boundaries between the celebrity world and the
real one. Depp and Heard on trial, on a stage representing truth and accountability, are shuffled xeroxes
of the characters and presentations that make up their celebrity lives. That is because they have lifetimes
of presenting themselves to an audience with a motive, and the public has years of experience in
interpreting them as stars.

Ultimately, the vitriolic opinions and reactions people form publicly to these characters might represent
an online space and communal consensus that isn’t as sensitive to daily victims of abuse as we may like
to think. Instead, it cuts out moulds for a cinema-esque hero and a villain in a frightening display of what
may be in store for D.A and S.A sufferers should they come forward. A total breakdown of their social
circle, reputational destruction, and a resultant landscape that won’t let you walk in any other shade than
monster, or victimhood. In particular for people who are being abused by loved ones, and who need
years of therapy and help to realise that their love is not returned, the Depp V Heard case and the hate
that surrounds it suggests that speaking up is not an option. A very dangerous rhetoric in this situation.

Tempered responses, compassion, listening or a preservation of yourself and the accused in a nuanced
and appropriate tone are all off the table it seems. Potentially, opinions from the case may seep into
conversations around D. A and S.A, and mocking the words spoken on either side or reducing the
situation to a perpetrator and victim when reactionary abuse and substance abuse are just two examples
of defensive mechanisms that the sufferer may experience, might frighten the victim on how these topics
may be handled should they speak up. It’s important to remember that this case itself is a lot like a
celebrity; it’s famous and an anomaly of itself.

– Amber Hogan

Featured Image Source: Via Pexels

If you have been in affected by any of the discussions within the article, help is available.

  • Refuge: helping women and children facing domestic abuse.
  • Respect: Men’s Advice Link UK with a domestic Abuse helpline.
  • Univeristy of Exeter Wellbeing services.

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