The Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard case has been a highly televised and public case. There will definitely be a movie or tv series that Netflix has probably already secured the rights off.
But as a person who is working in the space of diversity, safety, and inclusion and doing a Masters’s in Gender and Sexuality in Global Politics, Ive been uncomfortable with this case for a long time. I have not been looking forward to the verdict. My personal stake, in this case, is not due to any affiliation with either of the two parties. It is in fact my affiliation and passion for gender-based violence and the setback this entire case has been for victims of domestic abuse and violence.
Publicly televising this case is problematic. The ability of the media to vilify a person beyond reasonable doubt causes irreparable damage whether proven innocent or guilty.
What is the reality of the globe on violence currently?
The rate of domestic violence is at its highest, especially since the pandemic. 1 in 4 women aged between 15 and 24 years are likely to have already experienced domestic abuse by the time they reach their mid-twenties. Domestic violence became a pandemic within a pandemic. Violence against women and persons from minority genders tends to increase during epidemics and war. Domestic violence increased by 37% in the Middle Eastern region for example. In India cases of domestic violence were at an all-time high during the pandemic, higher than in the last 10 years.
In my personal experience, Serein received calls from Internal Complaints Committee members who had suddenly started to receive calls of domestic abuse. Our team then created a resource guide to assist our partners by calling every domestic abuse hotline available in India to vet if these lines work.
Global organizations still do not have parameters for measuring gender-based violence. The heteronormative framework of the UN and Security Council leaves out other vulnerable gender identities. Domestic violence has been an issue with such intensity that it forced the UN to conclude in its mandatory articles in the International Arms Trade Treaty that the import and export of arms would not result in ‘gender-based violence’. Of course, this was only done after women organizations like IANSA, WILPF, and Global Action showed the relationship between group armed violence and violence perpetrated between homes and families
The barrage of posts, tweets, gifs, and memes demonizing Amber Heard does not go unnoticed by survivors and victims of abuse whether these individuals are elderly, children or women, transgender or queer. The message is clear, if you experience abuse or violence you will be vilified.
The overwhelming support the ‘victim’ of the defamation Johnny Deep received while heartwarming is an anomaly. Victims of gender-based violence do not receive such support. The usual outcome of such cases is victims having defamation cases filed against them as an intimidation tactic and they withdraw their domestic violence case. Where was the support for Sandhya Wankhede in the Sandhya Wankhede v. Manoj Bhimrao Wankhede, (2011) case or for Madonna when abused by Sean Penn who has a history of violence?
There have been posts and articles that speak to Amber Heard using this for publicity. Whether she has or hasn’t, this has been problematic. Sexual harassment and abuse are the most under-reported crimes worldwide. These articles and posts do nothing to deter this.
There were comments and tweets about how people use the #metoo for publicity. Ive heard statements like ‘she #metooed it.’ Let us be clear, the reality of making Amber Heard a demon is not something any person would want to undergo willingly. Hence the underreporting of cases.
Given the space I work and study in, I am always in close and sometimes direct proximity to cases of domestic abuse, violence, and sexual assault. The victims of the incidents even with overwhelming evidence refuse to log formal complaints. My fear is that the next time someone comes forward either to file a complaint or share their story, they will hear ‘Don’t be an Amber’ or some trivializing statement.
If you have posted articles or memes on this case I’d like you to remember, that gender-based violence even in subtle forms is more common than you can imagine. It happens with celebrities, with people who are educated, with people who come from all strata of society, and to people irrespective of gender. Violence is not about publicity but power and the party who has the chance to wield it, whether legally, culturally, or socially.
It is your decision what message you would like to send and which side of history you are part of.