Why Do We Continue to Vilify Victims of Abuse?
Open the “News” tab on Google after typing in “Amber Heard” and you’ll find the top headlines to be some iteration of “Celebrating Singledom! Amber Heard Has Wild Girls’ Night In London After Johnny Depp Divorce Drama” or “Amber Heard Parties After Divorce.” It’s only until you scroll down through all of the accusatory headlines that you learn about Heard donating the $7 million settlement money her and her ex-husband Johnny Depp’s legal teams agreed upon to two charities, the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
For those currently in the dark regarding the very public divorce case between Heard and Depp, the gist (if anything as complicated can be simplified) is that Heard filed for divorce and a temporary restraining order on domestic abuse charges against Depp. However, what began as a Hollywood divorce soon turned into a battle of ideologies between celebrities and anyone with access to media platforms and a keyboard. Hashtags quickly surfaced all over the internet, expressing disparate opinions on the matter. #ImWithJohnny posts glorified the Hollywood heartthrob and denounced Heard’s claims of abuse, labeling her, time and time again, as an opportunistic gold digger who was only after Depp’s $400 million fortune.
By contrast, #ImWithAmber became a plea from those who are all too aware of the ways in which women are historically discredited after making official abuse allegations. And that’s only if women get that far; today, the number of women who report instances of abuse are few and far between. What makes Heard’s case particularly unique is Depp’s status as a verifiable Hollywood icon. He’s one of Hollywood’s most enduring, most adored, and most powerful actors in the world, which makes it that much easier for the public to side with him and maintain that Heard’s claims are fallacious and motivated solely by money. Somehow Heard has everything to lose, despite being the victim here. We can hope that Depp will be held accountable for his actions, but as we’ve seen time and time and time again, powerful industry men in similar positions rarely are, and instead typically walk away unscathed, while women are labeled as anything from gold diggers, to sluts, to simply problematic.
Amongst the deluge of vitriol that Heard has been subjected to throughout the high-profile case, references to her bi-sexuality and drug use have been used as further evidence of fraudulent claims or, worse, as justification for the abuse inflicted on her. On comment threads—which tend to be cauldrons of hate on any website—people have labeled her a “cokehead” and a “lezzie,” using this as further ammo to defend Depp—or “poor Johnny,” as he’s often referred to—and what he must be going through. And while, sure, an ousted scandal of this degree is definitely affecting Depp, the hypocrisy of his supporters is almost as troublesome as the actor’s actions. With decades worth of stories detailing Johnny’s history of wild, violent, and intoxicated antics, we’re left wondering how the media has been able to twist and distort this story so irreparably. How can someone vilify Heard for things as irrelevant as her previous relationships and casual drug use (none of our research, by the way, supported the claim that Amber is or ever was a drug abuser or addict), and, at the same time, grant Depp a tabula rasa when there is insurmountable proof that his history with both romantic partners and alcohol and drugs are reason enough not to question Heard’s allegations?
What makes this case even more tragic is that it is by no means an isolated one. Lindsay Lohan, who is equally known for her cult film roles as she is for her off-screen life, is one of the countless other victims of abuse who have been painted—by the public and the media—as the villain. Over the past two weeks, photos and videos have surfaced of Lohan’s fiancée, Russian millionaire Egor Tarabasov, assaulting her. Yet despite Lohan explicitly using the word “unsafe” to describe her partner, the public seems relatively unfazed and unconvinced—evidence or not. No, much easier to write it off as yet another one of Lohan’s “wild antics,” something she brought upon herself. But as Selena Cotte put it, “As a society, we need to publicly support Lindsay Lohan…as much as we would any person coming out of an abusive relationship or situation. It doesn’t matter if she went to jail, or that she admitted to cocaine use, or that she is seven years older than Tarabasov—abuse is abuse, and we should not tolerate it. By keeping quiet, the abuse is not being stopped, but instead, condoned.”
With alarming, mounting evidence of instances of domestic assault going unreported due to fear of either not being believed or not getting the necessary help, how is it that the media is still allowing those who go public with not only their abuse accusations, but unmistakable evidence, to be admonished? In Lohan’s case, some people didn’t seem to care about the evidence, but in Heard’s case, some people didn’t believe the evidence, no matter how substantial it was. At the beginning of the Depp-Heard divorce saga, Depp supporters continuously shouted the same chant: “Where are the receipts?” But even after Heard presented proof, more proof, and then more proof after that, the hateful and derogatory comments kept coming.
The latest of the many indignities thrown Heard’s way is the one calling her careless and dumb for not considering the high taxes involved in a donation so large; keep in mind, the donation they’re referring to is the $7 million one (all of the money from the settlement) given to two organizations, one of which provides support to victims of domestic abuse. Yet perhaps what’s most repulsive and perplexing is the fact that, after photos surfaced of her and her friends going out, Heard is now being chastised for moving on with her life. It’s as if suffering, repenting, and hiding is the only way for her to prove the abuse was real. As if by moving on and celebrating the end of this difficult period, she somehow deserved what happened to her.
In a society where victims of abuse are vilified, ostracized, or chastised, it’s no longer enough to sit back and silently observe the hate unfold. For those with a platform to do so, it’s infinitely important to speak up and say, “No more.”
If you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic abuse you can seek help here or call 1-800-799-SAFE.
Images via the New York Post and E!