In Spring 2022, the defamation trial in Virginia between former spouses Johnny Depp and Amber Heard captured headlines. Beneath the Hollywood gossip veneer, the case shed light on the complexities of domestic abuse.
The case began in 2018 when Heard claimed in an op-ed for The Washington Post that she was a victim of domestic abuse. In 2019, Depp filed suit, arguing he was the victim of abuse, not her. The weeks-long trial included testimony about mutual abuse, drug and alcohol use, and inconsistent statements from both parties.
Mutual Abuse and Imperfect People
As the Depp-Heard case illustrated, domestic abuse often occurs as part of a larger pattern of dysfunction within a relationship: drugs, alcohol, and mental illness can exacerbate existing problems and lead to violence. These issues came up at the Depp-Heard trial, as did claims of abuse from both parties.
Recent studies indicate that mutual abuse is more common than people know. These cases can even result in mutual restraining orders. Mutual abuse complicates the idea that victims are always perfectly innocent, as well as our assumptions about the abuser's motives.
These complexities may discourage “imperfect” victims of abuse from coming forward, since a trial or even a police investigation is likely to reveal the victim's own flaws. Further, the use of defamation cases like Depp-Heard's to silence individuals or punish them for speaking out can have a chilling effect on ending legitimate abuse. They can also be a way to control a spouse or partner.
Honesty Is the Best Policy
The Virginia jury ruled that the 2018 op-ed contained false statements and found in favor of Depp. Heard has been ordered to pay Depp $15 million in damages, which she claims is more than she can afford.
Going forward, this outcome will make domestic violence victims more cautious. Both victims and the accused should be careful throughout the process to be as truthful and transparent as possible.
If you're the victim of domestic abuse or you've been accused of abuse, you'll be tempted to cast yourself in the best possible light. Avoid exaggerating your version of events. The risk is that omissions and lies will weaken your case if and when your partner or former partner can provide evidence contradicting your claims. Disproving part of your story may call into question your entire case.
To that end, be careful what you put on social media. As celebrities, Heard and Depp create a larger social media trail than most. While most of us don't write op-eds in major papers, we do post comments or photos on social media, or send texts to friends. All of these can later be used to prove or disprove claims of domestic violence.
Pennsylvania Attorney with Domestic Violence Experience
In Pennsylvania, victims of domestic violence can rely on the Protection from Abuse Act. Actions that fall under this law include not just physical violence but also harassment and threats.
If your domestic partner has become violent, or if you've been falsely accused, you need an experienced attorney who can help you build a case and protect your rights. Call attorney Joseph D. Lento and his expert team today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.