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Courtesy of YouTube

The Depp-Heard trial proves that blanket women’s solidarity is a myth

The trial is a violent backlash to the Me Too movement, and many women have shown themselves to be happily complicit in its misogyny

I wasn’t paying much attention when the Depp-Heard trial began. I’d been a fan of Johnny Depp since I was a teenager, though my admiration had cooled a few years ago when a news story emerged that he had allegedly beaten his wife, Amber Heard. I remember what had surprised me most at the time wasn’t even the story itself, but my female flatmate turning to me and stating that women lie about domestic violence for money and that the bruises photographed were “probably makeup.”

When the trial started I was pretty apathetic. I wasn’t interested in either of the actors’ current careers, and a lot of the takes seemed to be calling this a case of “mutual abuse.” I was also under the mistaken impression that the trial was a lawsuit by Heard against Depp, accusing him of domestic violence. I wouldn’t have paid attention except for the fact that social media forced me to pay attention. I have never seen a propaganda machine work so ruthlessly since this case. I stayed off Tiktok and Facebook, but apparently the onslaught was even more vicious there.

Despite never clicking on a Depp-Heard trial video, YouTube kept showing me clips of people tearing apart Heard’s testimonies in court. Instagram pushed images of Depp showing kindness to his fans or meaningful quotes by him. Twitter recommended tweets mocking the accuracy of Heard’s words or questioning her actions of those as a victim of domestic abuse. It was relentless. No matter how much I clicked “not interested” on all platforms, the machine kept running. One of the instigators of this was the conservative outlet, The Daily Wire, which reportedly spent up to $47,000 promoting articles and videos on social media with an anti-Amber Heard bias.

The more I was forced to pay attention to the trial, the more I discovered how much evidence had been submitted against Depp for domestic abuse. I also realised this wasn’t a trial on if Depp had abused Heard. He had already had that trial in the UK where the judge had found 12 of the 14 allegations of assault on Amber Heard “proved to the civil standard.” I also saw the text messages where Depp reportedly declared, “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead,” and “I’ll smack the ugly cunt around before I let her in.” Many of the people defending these messages and declaring that this was a case of “mutual abuse” were men. However many – too many – were other women.

What shocked me during this trial, and what had unnerved me years ago with my flatmate, was that so many of the people tearing Heard’s testimonies to shreds were women. On social media, it was women who were dressing up as Heard and ridiculing her recounts of violent sexual abuse. It was two of Depp’s ex-girlfriends who asserted that Heard’s claims were “impossible to believe”, purely because they’d never experienced that violence themselves. It was high profile celebrities – like Jennifer Aniston, Emma Roberts and Naomi Campbell – who flocked to Instagram to offer Depp likes and messages of support. “[Women like Heard] are manipulative and cold and they use their very womanhood to play victim,” wrote Ireland Baldwin in one particularly inflammatory post. “I hope Johnny gets his reputation and his life back.”

This wasn’t even a case of “Believe All Women,” regardless of testimonies or evidence. Heard had evidence. She had collected more evidence than many victims of domestic violence are able to. Depp had already been on trial for the allegations and had lost. The trial wasn’t about if he had abused Heard. It was a defamation trial on her right to discuss it. 

The lawsuit from Depp against Heard was in response to an article Heard wrote in the Washington Post in 2018 entitled I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change. Depp wasn’t named but his lawyers claimed the piece was defamatory. Two years previously, Depp had ranted to a friend that Heard was “begging for global humiliation and she’s going to get it.” Looking at the trial in the light of that declaration, as well as the macabre circus around it, is frightening.

This trial was never just about Amber Heard. It was never about how we feel about her as a person. The trial was always about a victim’s right to talk about their abuser in public. Earlier this year, Marilyn Manson sued Evan Rachel Wood for her allegations of grooming and abuse against him during the period they were in a relationship – she at 18 and he at 36. Manson has been a close friend of Depp’s for three decades. 

Now that the jury (who were not isolated from weeks of the same anti-Heard jokes and propaganda that we were subjected to) have declared that her statement was made in “actual malice” and have ordered her to pay millions in compensation to Depp, what does this mean for other cases of domestic abuse? Amber Heard and Evan Rachel Wood are both wealthy, cis, white American women. Thousands of women in similar situations will have seen what happens when women, even in privileged positions, challenge their apparent abusers. 

It never occurred to me when the trial started that I would be seeing the violent backlash to the Me Too movement. Lesser still that many of the people fanning the flames of turning a trial around domestic abuse and misogyny into reality TV would be women, many of whom don’t seem to realise the long-term consequences this will have for VAG (violence against women) survivors all over the globe. 

Last night, Refuge, a charity for survivors of domestic abuse, sent out a message; We will believe you and we will support you. You are not alone. After the events of the last few weeks, it’s a message that is needed now more than ever.