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Johnny Depp, Amber Heard and how we judge survivors

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The blogosphere has been rocked by Amber Heard's allegations that she was abused by husband Johnny Depp. Details from court documents have been released along with a photo of her bruised face. But most interesting is how the public has reacted to the story.

As Depp is a much-beloved actor, fans have been quick to come to his defense and condemn Heard. This includes speculation about the timing of the allegations as Depp's mother died three days prior and his latest film Alice Through the Looking Glass was set to hit theatres.

Heard has also been accused of lying for fame and money. Some fans have even acted as amateur investigators inspecting photos of her bruised face and coming up with theories about how her story can't be true. 

Those close to the actor have also gotten in on the action. Comedian Doug Stanhope, friend of Depp, published a guest column on The Wrap to say the abuse claims were merely a blackmail attempt on the part of Heard. Daughter Lily-Rose Depp has also supported the actor on Instagram and his sister has spoken to the press. As well Depp's former partner of 14 years Vanessa Paradis, whom the actor shares two children with, has penned a letter defending him.

Hollywood media has helped to stir the pot with stories about Heard's open bisexuality and close friendships with lesbians, along with claims of blackmail. Heard was further criticized after being pictured smiling and laughing with a friend after leaving a legal meeting. 

 

 

This is just another example of how society prosecutes survivors of abuse, especially when the alleged abuser is a famous and powerful man. The onus is often put on survivors who are held to an impossible standard while the accused are protected at all costs.

As a fan of Depp I too didn't want to believe the claims when they came out. But I also know that women rarely lie about these types of crimes unlike some would like to believe. In fact the majority survivors don't come forward for fear of reprisal or the criticism that comes along with reporting. 

When the allegations against Jian Ghomeshi came to light many asked why these women didn't go public with their claims earlier. People were also suspicious of why they chose to go to the press rather than the police and why they chose to remain anonymous. When the case went to trial these women were dragged through the mud for their inability to remember details from a trauma that happened years ago, for continuing a relationship with the man they said abused them and for sharing their stories with other survivors.

When allegations resurfaced against Bill Cosby after 30 years, people wanted more cases and proof before they were willing to believe survivors. Now 55 women have come forward and there are still those who believe he is innocent. 

These were two well-loved men who people felt that they knew. No one wanted to believe that they were capable of the horrible things that they were being accused of. They wanted proof, multiple cases and the "whole story." They scrutinized the past and present behaviour of every survivor to try to find some evidence that they were lying. 

The trouble is that with any crime the public can never have the whole story, evidence is not always perfect and there is no normal way for a survivor to act. These myths get perpetuated when people who who don't understand abuse are the ones writing about and commenting on these stories. In reality survivors often stay with their abusers, trauma affects people differently and just because someone has been abused doesn't mean they will never be happy again.

Alleged abusers are often supported under the banner of "innocent until proven guilty." While this is an important right, all rights have limitations. The rights of the accused should be weighed in balance with the rights of survivors. Their stories also need to be treated as equal instead of the current 55-to-one ratio before they are believed.

In Heard's case there are photos of her injuries, an eye witness has corroborated her claims and she has been granted a temporary restraining order. Yet this is still not enough proof for most people. What it comes down to isn't about proof but that people don't want to believe someone they like is capable of abuse. 

The fact is that Depp is a great actor and a likeable person. But just because a person is likeable and talented doesn't mean they aren't capable of abuse. Just because a person isn't abusive to some people in their life doesn't mean that they aren't capable of abusing another person. And at the opposing end just because you don't like a person doesn't mean that they deserve to be abused.

I'm not saying that I know Johnny Depp is guilty, I don't. What I am saying is we need to use this case to examine how we view and talk about survivors. We need to stop holding them to impossible standards, start treating them equally and supporting them when they speak out. Only then can we eradicate the stigma around abuse. 

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