On March 1, 2019 Johnny Depp filed a defamation action against Amber Heard in a Fairfax, Virginia courthouse. The statement of claim asserts that “with a prior arrest for violent domestic abuse and having confessed under oath to a series of violent attacks on Mr. Depp, Ms. Heard is not a victim of domestic abuse; she is a perpetrator.”
Depp claims to have “87 newly obtained surveillance camera videos” and “a litany of neutral third-party witnesses” to back up his version of events.
After a short lived marriage which ended in May, 2016, Heard appeared in public with a bruised face and obtained a restraining order against Depp. The allegations were widely publicized and resulted in condemnation of Depp as an abuser of women. The recent defamation suit was filed in response to Heard’s op-ed published in The Washington Post last December though the news organization is not named in the lawsuit.
Amber Heard’s attorney issued a public statement claiming the lawsuit is an attempt to silence her.
Domestic violence is widely presumed to be a gendered crime committed against women by men but studies have shown that most intimate partner violence is reciprocal. Some reports have found that one directional violence is perpetrated by women in about 70% of cases though women are more likely to sustain serious injuries. Depp’s lawsuit claims that he was the victim of violence in his marriage and that one assault resulted in his middle finger being severed by Heard having thrown a glass vodka bottle at him.
Additionally, he claims that witnesses observed Heard having an affair with Elon Musk only a month after Depp married her. That relationship continued after their marriage with Musk and Heard remaining friends.
Depp was allegedly punched in the face by Heard on more than one occasion. A member of Depp’s security team, Sean Bett, is said to have “insisted on taking photographs to document the damage to Mr. Depp’s face inflicted by Ms. Heard” in December, 2015. Trinity Esparza, the daytime concierge at the Eastern Columbia Building where Depp shared a penthouse with Heard, testified along with other staff that they saw Heard many times after she claims to have been assaulted and there was no bruising or cuts on her face. Esparza sought out security video after hearing the surprising accusations against Depp in May, 2016.
“[She] testified under oath that she saw Whitney Heard pretend to punch her sister in the face. Then Ms. Heard, [a friend], and Whitney Heard all laughed.” The lawsuit claims that Amber Heard later attempted to get Esparza and another employee “to help retract the statement that was given to the press” regarding numerous witnesses who denied seeing any injury on Heard’s face prior to her public allegations of abuse.
Heard has been made an ambassador on women’s rights following the sensationalized allegations against her ex-husband. In her op-ed Heard says she “felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out” but it is doubtful she will experience any significant repercussions as an abuser herself if Depp’s allegations are proven in court.
Depp is seeking over $50 million claiming that, along with other damages, he was removed from the next sequel in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise after the Washington Post article was published. Allegations that some of Amber Heard’s friends collaborated in the false accusations against him, including committing perjury, have not resulted in any criminal charges.
Women’s violence against male partners has been dismissed as a form of self-defence by many victim advocates, and courts have accepted the use of “battered woman syndrome” in cases where women have murdered their husbands. Men are usually assumed to have contributed to the violence enacted upon them by virtue of their masculinity and often being the larger or stronger of the two people.
With numerous witnesses and surveillance video to back him up, it’s possible that Johnny Depp may finally flip the script on Amber Heard and bring attention to female perpetrated violence. If that happens, it’s hard to predict whether or not his reputation can be fully restored. Men are often too embarrassed to admit that they’ve been physically abused by their wives and for a renown actor like Johnny Depp the new image as a beaten man may not be as marketable.
But perhaps, despite the #MeToo era, the public may be ready to set aside their stereotypes about men and talk about “toxic femininity.”