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What the Depp-Heard verdict means for domestic violence survivors

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp watch as the jury leaves the courtroom at the end of the day at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, May 16, 2022.(Steve Helber/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Amber Heard and Johnny Depp watch as the jury leaves the courtroom at the end of the day at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, May 16, 2022.(Steve Helber/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Over the past two months, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s defamation trial captivated the internet.

This week, a jury found Heard liable for defaming her ex-husband and awarded him more than $10 million in damages. It also found a former attorney for Depp defamed Heard and awarded her $2 million. Heard intends to appeal the ruling, her lawyer said. But since the start of the trial, social media exploded with accounts posting in favor of Depp and attacking Heard. Teen Vogue editor Lexi McMenamin, along with their publication, has faced harassment from Depp’s supporters after they wrote a piece about his win following the verdict.

As a survivor who has been writing about sexual violence since before the start of the #MeToo movement, McMenamin says they’ve received messages from readers who don’t feel comfortable talking about their experiences publicly because of the harassment from Depp’s fans. And the backlash specifically targets gender marginalized people, they say.

“In recent months misogyny is becoming much trendier than it was allowed to be before,” McMenamin says. “We were seeing this backlash to #MeToo that was making it much more normative to belittle survivors or even just think about issues that disproportionately impact gender marginalized people in a different way.”

Interview Highlights

On how Depp supporters attacked Amber Heard online

“There is one angle of supporting Depp about the idea that male survivors don’t get enough attention. Because there was information that came out over the years that either Amber had hit Johnny back or there was a recording of Amber making comments suggesting that she was dismissive of the idea that Johnny was a survivor. Those were the things that ended up proliferating around the internet that people then began thinking, ‘Oh, this is actually about Amber abusing Johnny, he’s the survivor in the situation.’

“And obviously because #MeToo was also about feminism, that does not preclude the possibility of people who are not women being survivors. I don’t actually identify as a woman. And I don’t think that that makes me not a survivor, for instance.

“And I don’t think that Johnny Depp represents me just because he’s not a woman survivor or anything. That was one of the talking points, but it was a full range of things that were significantly less nuanced than that, that [the attacks on Heard] functionally came down to.

“There were people that were like, ‘Here, retweet this tweet if you support Johnny,’ ‘Like this tweet, if you support Amber.’ So even if you weren’t getting into the specifics of why you were supporting people, it became almost like picking your favorite Avenger.”

On how the #MeToo movement has changed, and comparing Depp and Harvey Weinstein

“It is interesting because, if you think about #MeToo in 2017, I found myself really frustrated at the time because Harvey Weinstein was an easy person for people to get upset with. He wasn’t like a forward-facing star. He wasn’t conventionally attractive. He’s an older man. And obviously, there’s this litany of stories against him, but Johnny is an example of someone who people did not want to be the bad guy.

“People had grown up watching ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ or they had grown up watching ‘Edward Scissorhands.’ And so he laundered his own support, pretty strategically I would argue. And there’s also evidence that, if not his team then others, like Ben Shapiro, had financed bots to basically support his side of the story both during his UK trial.”

On the defamation trial in the United Kingdom

“A lot of people don’t know that this was already like a case in the UK in which Johnny also sued the tabloid The Sun over defamation claims, in reference to how they talked about his relationship with Amber. Which is especially interesting given that the standard, it would’ve been easier for him to win in the UK, because the standard [for defamation] is slightly lower and still he lost. So a lot of people were not necessarily anticipating that he would ‘win’ the defamation case that happened in Virginia.”

Gabrielle Healy produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Gabe BullardAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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