It wasn’t until he gripped my arm so hard it left bruises that I finally had the courage to end it.
Not after years of abusive and controlling behavior, fierce jealousy and angry outbursts. All of these things were “invisible” and, in my opinion, not significant enough to risk antagonizing him by trying to leave the relationship.
Decades later, after the #MeToo movement sparked a global conversation about sexual assault, harassment, intimate partner violence and who we choose to believe in, I wish I could say that we’ve made the world safer for this younger version of me to stand up for itself. . But the events of the last few weeks have shown otherwise.
It would be easy to dismiss the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard libel trial as just a celebrity spectacle, a side show with little social significance. The live-streamed six-week trial certainly had all the hallmarks of a media circus, but the impact of Depp’s successful effort to show he was a victim of defamation will leave damaging reverberations for survivors of intimate partner violence for years to come. .
The trial was not a criminal case to determine the guilt or innocence of either party, and I am in no position to judge that. But the misogynistic nature of the Heard attacks speaks volumes about the way women – especially women portrayed as “nasty” – who speak out about abuse are treated.
Like the decision itself, the court of public opinion is decidedly pro-Depp. Memes, videos, comments alongside Depp have flooded social media over the past couple of months. His ex-wife, Amber Heard, was eviscerated in public, fulfilling a promise she made to a former agent: “She’s begging for total global humiliation. She will make it.”
In a measure of the uneven level of support for Depp, last week USA Today reported that #JusticeForJohnnyDepp has 19.5 billion views on TikTok, where #JusticeForAmberHeard has 75 million.
“The ways we talk about domestic violence really matter,” Elizabeth Montoya, communications coordinator for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said after the verdict last week. “I think in a case like this, we clearly see the impact that the kind of public discourse on domestic violence can have on survivors and the advocates who are working with them.”
Montoya said lawyers reported that survivors had watched the unfolding and are having second thoughts about proceeding with their cases.
“Survivors do not live in a vacuum. Survivors are seeing all the comments and are seeing intimate and private details being shared publicly and used to justify and minimize abuse, realizing that their privacy and their past can be used against them if they come forward,” she said. “And they are worried they will face the same kind of scrutiny and retaliation for speaking out.”
Montoya said survivors see the memes and “jokes” attacking Heard and it sends a message: “There are consequences for speaking out.” When survivors see their friends and family sharing and participating on social media or in public, it tells them that it may not be safe to present their abuse, even to their loved ones.
Due to ongoing shame and social stigma, most people who experience intimate partner violence do not report it, Montoya said. Also, when survivors find the courage to come forward, some find that nothing happens and there is no accountability for their abusers, she said, which can make it hard to want to go through that again.
In regards to sexual assault, this reality became even clearer last week when reports from my colleague Sydney Brownstone and Ashley Hiruko of KUOW revealed that the Seattle Police Department temporarily stopped investigating new sexual assault cases this year after the number of detectives investigating sexual assaults has been reduced. .
Abuse is about power and control. When millions of people – mostly women – said #MeToo in 2017, they were trying to regain some of their power by using their voices to call for change. But the Depp-Heard verdict sends a chilling message that while you can use your voice, you could be slapped with a potentially devastating libel suit for doing so.
And how much power you have to protect yourself depends on your resources, which we know are directly tied to race, gender, sexual orientation, and wealth. If even a rich, white, cisgender celebrity couldn’t find safety or protection, what hope do the rest of us have?
But Montoya said we all have a role to play in ending abuse. It can happen to anyone and we can all learn to better appear to the survivors in our lives and change the culture that allows abuse to happen.
“If you come forward,” she said, “there is support available, there are people who will listen, there are people who will believe in you, there are people who will give you the support you deserve.”