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Amber Heard – The ‘Untrustworthy’ Woman

words by: Elly Savva

*TW // Domestic violence: This piece talks about details of abuse that may be triggering for survivors*

Despite the recent verdict which ruled that Amber Heard had been subjected to violence by her ex-husband Johnny Depp, many on the internet have rushed to Depp’s defence. Leaked phone calls suggest that their marriage was messy and Heard fought back. However, the fact that she isn’t a ‘perfect victim’ doesn’t detract from the violence that she was subjected to.  

The libel claim that concluded on the 2nd November was brought to the court by Depp, as he filed a lawsuit after an article in the Sun labelled the actor a “wife-beater”. Whilst the judge accepted the damage it had caused to Depp’s career, he found Depp to be guilty of 12 counts of domestic violence against Ms Heard.

Depp as the tortured artist:

Successful, charming, and conventionally attractive, Johnny Depp has been held as an object of affection for many. In recent years, his struggle with substance issues pushed him neatly into the box of the ‘tortured artist’, a trope that puts wealthy white men on a pedestal that allows them the luxury of continued success and admiration despite wrongdoings. Two years after allegations of his domestic abuse became public knowledge, the actor landed a front cover feature on British GQConducted in Depp’s villa in the South of France, the profile depicts Depp as “vulnerable” and “aggrieved”, portraying the image of a loveable rogue drowning in his inner turmoils. His character was painted like something of a damsel in distress, subservient to his emotions, and deserving of our sympathy. The 57-year old actor has an estimated net worth of around $200 million. 

On the other side, Amber Heard as the ‘Untrustworthy’ woman:

Amber Heard doesn’t fit our expectations of a victim. She doesn’t act in the way that people want women, or victims, to act. Perhaps this is rooted in the distrust of women who own their sexuality for themselves, rather than for men. When asked in a 2018 interview about how comfortable she felt filming sex scenes, Heard responded swiftly and confidently with “I never feel uncomfortable with my sexuality, I don’t think that takes from my power as a woman”. Whilst it would be easier to accept Heard as a victim if she were a subdued character who shied away from sex, she is assertive and often characterised as difficult. The actress is 23 years younger than Depp, with a net worth of $9 million which pales in comparison to his wealth.

Whilst Heard prefers not to label herself, she has had public relationships with women. Her sexual orientation has often been a focal point for the media, feeding directly into negative portrayals of Heard as a suspicious character. Media outlets highlighted her sexuality in articles where it had no relevance, such as the Scottish Daily Mail’s headline “Will Johnny Depp’s bisexual wife now take him for £35m?”. Elsewhere, a 2016 article in the Sun titled “Bye, bi Amber” placed the blame of Heard’s divorce on her sexuality. It included quotes from a source who suggested Heard had “always made her bisexual tendencies quite obvious”, suggesting that her refusal to hide its existence had sparked arguments and drove Depp into insanity from his jealousy. 

Negative stereotypes portray bisexual women to be promiscuous, sneaky, and untrustworthy. An Australian talk show host suggested that it was “not wise [of Depp] to marry a bisexual”, suggesting that the actor had made a mistake in choosing to be with a queer woman. These kinds of comments reflect the way that homophobia and misogyny uniquely intersect against women. Why should a successful Hollywood movie star make the mistake of marrying a woman who isn’t solely attracted to men?

The links between bisexuality and abuse:

Whilst bisexual women face public discrimination, behind closed doors they are a demographic who are likely to face abuse. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey released in 2013 found that bisexual women experienced a higher prevalence of physical violence in their relationships than both heterosexual and lesbian women, with 61.1% of bisexual women reporting rape, physical violence, or stalking by a partner. Out of those who reported this behaviour, 89.5% stated that they had only experienced this abuse at the hands of male partners. This pattern suggests that the intersection of misogyny and homophobia can manifest as violence against women in intimate relationships. 

Depp’s violence:

Depp’s jealousy over Heard’s sexuality was an alleged cause for his violence. Assaults included Depp tearing out her hair, kicking and head-butting her, and putting his hands around her neck to choke her. These were evidenced by audiotapes, pictures, and text messages sent by Depp. In the second incident observed by the court, Depp allegedly hit her and split her lip after he’d tried to set fire to a picture painted by her ex-girlfriend. In text messages following the alleged incident, Depp referred to it as a “disco bloodbath”. In another incident, Heard claimed that Depp had become jealous after one of her female friends had touched and hugged her, throwing glasses at Heard and ripping her dress. The judge ruled that Depp was guilty of abuse on both of these occasions, on top of 10 other “sustained and multiple assaults” that left Heard fearful for her life. 

Heard claims that Depp called her “fame-hungry” and a “sl*t” in response to the way she dressed. She maintains that in verbal attacks he spoke of wanting to watch her being raped. In text messages sent by the actor, he called her a “fat ugly wh*re”, labelling her a “witch” and spoke about wanting to burn her, drown her, and “f**k her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she is dead“. His lawyers suggested that these texts shouldn’t be taken seriously. Depp’s fans mirrored his words as they displayed the statement “ditch the witch” outside the London high court.

Depp’s defence suggested that Heard had constructed an elaborate hoax as some kind of insurance policy against him in their divorce. Such suggestions rely on the ‘gold-digger’ defence against female claimants, a stereotype that characterises women as greedy liars who make victims of naïve men. This line of accusation didn’t stand up in court, as the examination of evidence found Depp to be guilty of violence on multiple occasions. Heard donated the entirety of her £5.5 million divorce settlement to charity.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/greg2600/, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The fact that the characterisation of Heard as a ‘gold-digger’ was dismissed has been celebrated by domestic violence charities. They emphasised the fact that this will encourage other people to seek justice, no matter how powerful their perpetrator might be. The rejection of these tropes will set a precedent going forwards and prevent the replication of it in court. Women’s Aid added that everybody “deserves to be listened to and believed”, even when they don’t fit the image of the ‘perfect’ victim.

Whilst the odds were stacked against Amber Heard, she left court vindicated. Despite having her character and her sexuality dragged through the mud by the internet and the media, she stood firmly against her abuser. Equipped with enormous wealth, high-status, and a dedicated fanbase, Johnny Depp expected to clear his name and gain compensation. In this case, his power and money failed to protect him from the consequences of his violence. By standing up against one of Hollywood’s most treasured stars and succeeding, Amber Heard has proven that you don’t have to be the ‘perfect victim’ to prove your truth, no matter how powerful or loved your abuser might be. 

If you have been affected by domestic abuse, the 24hr National Domestic Abuse Helpline is available on 0808 2000 247

Interested in reading more about this topic? How about our other articles:
An Interview with a Specialist Sexual Offences Barrister
The Rise and Fall of Harvey Weinstein
Rough Sex Doesn’t Kill, Abuse Does: What the New Changes Will Mean

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Feature Image photography credits:
– https://www.flickr.com/photos/greg2600/, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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