TW: domestic violence, rape, sexual assault
‘Anyone can be an abuser, even a celebrity with wealth, fame and a ubiquitous following’
Saskia Bamber questions the response in the media to Amber Heard’s allegations of domestic abuse
The media is currently blowing a fuse over the allegations made by actress Amber Heard against her husband, one of Hollywood’s most successful and lauded actors, Johnny Depp. What are those allegations? That Depp has been systematically engaging in domestic abuse towards Heard over the course of their fifteen-month marriage.
Amber Heard has done everything ‘right’ in terms of what is expected and demanded of a victim of domestic abuse. She has provided evidence, left her husband, involved the authorities, engaged lawyers and filed for divorce. Yet many are still asserting that she is no more than a gold digging liar whose main priority is to ruin Depp and his important image. These ongoing suspicions force us to question why our society is so quick to question the motives of a survivor of domestic violence, as opposed to taking their accusations seriously.
Johnny Depp has an army of lawyers, a PR team ready to jump to his defence and an ex-wife and daughter, who have publicly declared that he couldn’t possibly have committed this crime. No accusations have been made regarding his past relationship; however, it is paramount to make clear that just because he has not committed spousal abuse in the past, this does not mean that he is innocent of any wrongdoing in the present. Anyone can be an abuser, even a celebrity with wealth, fame and a ubiquitous following.
There are so many complexities to this case, from allegations of blackmail to suing, which are only made worse by the constant pressure from the press, who are analysing Heard’s every move and trying to trip her up when she is most vulnerable. What is a very real and pressing issue in our society is being reduced to a sensationalized shock fest.
I am not writing this to evoke paranoia and suspicion in every relationship you see in the media, rather because it is important to ask why the onus of the blame is almost always placed upon the survivor, and not the abuser, whenever issues of violence against women initially come to the fore.
It is possible to link this victim blaming to the current controversy surrounding the Stanford rape case. One of the perpetrator’s friends redacted the assault down to ‘idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings’. What is never talked about in regards to victim blaming is that the victim loses. Her rapist caused her extreme emotional distress yet the media’s focus remains on what he has lost and what this trial has taken away from him.
I can say with absolute certainty that reporting abuse is one of the most difficult things you can do as a survivor. It is painful and sickening to have to relive all those bad experiences over and over again to the police, and to have the nature of those incidences called into question is heartbreaking. This is complicated by the fact that the actions of those who are guilty and those who are innocent in terms of how they react to accusations of domestic violence are often very similar. Put plainly, behaving as though you have done nothing wrong is not unique to those who are actually blameless. Indeed, those who most vehemently assert their innocence could be either.
Many sufferers of spousal abuse never report it to the police, often having conflicted feelings about their abuser and it does at times seem easier to act as though nothing is wrong and holding out, in the hope that they will change. And if you get to the point when you do report it there is the added stress of minimal prosecutions in proportion to the incidences that are reported, so the risk of them coming back and making your life a living hell is very real. Instances of abuse often go on behind closed doors with outsiders rarely being any the wiser, therefore actually getting to court is an achievement in itself and the likelihood of a conviction is horribly slim. Domestic abuse is habitually shrouded in secrecy, whilst also being normalized on the inside, therefore it is a crime for which the victim very rarely gets the justice they deserve.
The most important thing for a victim is to be believed, so as a fellow survivor of domestic abuse I am saying that I believe you Amber. By coming out and telling your story, the reality of what has happened, you are acting as an advocate for all those who haven’t, for whatever reason, escaped their abuser. It is soul crushing to be told that you are a lying about something like this and that level of violation cannot go ignored. No one is above the law, even the rich, famous and powerful.
This is why she has a right to be taken seriously; it doesn’t matter who she is or who her husband is, the fact of the matter is that Amber Heard is entitled to be given the respect that all survivors deserve when they make a report. And frankly, if we don’t take this seriously then when will it stop? Domestic violence kills, and if you blame the victim then you too become complicit.
Illustration by Mairead Finlay