American Univesity of Beirut

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp Trial: The Downfall or Rise of Women's Rights?

​​​​​​​​​​Rita Theresa ​El Kahi

On the first of June, 2022, the libel trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard concluded. As a result of this trial, Depp was granted $15 million in damages after his ex-wife claimed he assaulted her in an article. Heard's claims were found to be 'false', and she behaved with 'actual malice', according to the jury. Depp was also judged to have defamed Heard through his attorney, and she was awarded $2 million by the jury.

The case captivated the world as the trial was broadcasted and the world got access to the details of a high-profile domestic abuse case. During the six-week trial in Fairfax County Circuit Court, media coverage was inevitable. On many social media platforms, such as TikTok, videos of Johnny taking the stand went viral, igniting much-needed discussions on domestic abuse; particularly how males can also be victims. Amber responded by stating the following: “As Johnny Depp says he's 'moving forward,' women's rights are moving backward. The verdict's message to victims of domestic violence is ... be afraid to stand up and speak out.”

The day after Johnny Depp mostly won the defamation case, Heard's lead attorney mentioned that "lopsided" remarks on social media about the trial  transformed the courtroom into a "zoo" and affected the jury's judgment. This article will not discuss the  case's legalities, judgment, or the nuances of Heard and Depp’s relationship. However, the aim of this piece is to discuss the long-term effects of the trial on the current youth’s psyche and views. ​

For many years, the conflict between "guilty until proven innocent" and "innocent until proven guilty" has raged.  Social media users may not be the official juries but they are the quickest to judge and jump to conclusions. For example, while I was on Reddit, I came across an entire thread of posts titled: “All this Amber trial and Johnny Depp trial is revealing how feminism and other groups can ruin the country.” Amber has become the number one counterargument for the slogan “always believe the victim”.

This case has been and will continue to be weaponized by misogynists to perpetuate the idea that women cannot be trusted or believed. Is it true, however, that one rotten apple ruins the whole bunch? We have to confront this mentality and unlearn this generalization.  If the men that made fun of Amber all over social media truly cared about the abuse case and the victims, they would support and defend the victims without denigrating abused women. Personally, I have not seen a single man share tips on how to spot signs of domestic violence or encourage people to donate to domestic violence charities. Instead, I have witnessed a steady stream of hatred directed at women. These individuals only care about hunting for proof that "feminism equals poison".

According to WHO, 30% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate relationship violence or non-partner sexual violence at some point in their lives. Even though one in every three women in the world are victimized by violence, only one-third (27%) of these women report these atrocities. In addition, a rape crisis has been going on worldwide for several years now: “one out of every five women are raped.” According to the authors of a 2010 US research, just 2-10% of rape allegations are shown to be fraudulent. These statistics illustrate how gendered violence is on the rise, how women are disproportionately the victims of abuse, and how false rape charges are rare. Gender-based violence is not a myth. The trial’s result has reopened old wounds while also creating new ones. Five years ago, the hashtag #MeToo boomed, and the movement, organized primarily through social media, gave voice to thousands of women who had been sexually abused. However, there are some concerns that the defamation trial, which lasted six weeks, has hampered this progress. Experts believe that the trial's spectacle, which included Heard being humiliated and ridiculed on social media, will deter women from reporting sexual assault. Women who dare to stand up for their rights should be believed and supported, not made fun of.  Although Amber ‘might’ be an exception to the rule, most women who spoke up against their perpetrators are telling the truth. The trial should not be used as a shield to protect guilty men who claim to be 'decent people'.  We live in a patriarchal world where men hold the most power and because of that, men cannot be the main victims of sexism. When it comes to violence against women, bad apples don't exist since the entire basket is rotten and contaminated by patriarchy and sexism, but they do exist when the situation is reversed. Because there is no such thing as reverse sexism, oppression always travels in one direction, from oppressor to victim. 

Consequently, I will continue to believe in the victim until the accused is proven to be innocent. Contrary to popular belief on the internet, this does not imply mindlessly supporting and believing all women, but rather believing in women as a collective, because historically, and indeed today, women have not been heard, supported, or believed. I can condemn women who abuse men while remaining firm in my belief that women must be supported on a structural, institutional, and global basis.

Were the men commenting on the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial truly concerned about domestic abuse and how our society silences male victims, they would have sympathized with all survivors and supported feminism as a means of extinguishing toxic masculinity.  However, this is not the case because all these men do not seem to care enough since all they worry about is smearing women.

​Photo credits: woman in dress holding sword figurine photo. Unsplash​. ​Unsplash License. ​

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