In the now Internet-famous case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, a Virginia jury found that Depp was defamed by Heard when she wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in December 2018 claiming that she was a domestic violence survivor. The actors were in a relationship for five years and married for over a year beginning in 2015, but separated in a divorce during which Heard accused Depp of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
Although Depp was not explicitly named in the opinion piece, he claimed that the article was plainly about him and damaged his reputation and career. According to Depp, Disney dropped him from the upcoming Pirates of the Caribbean film after the publication of the article. As such, he sued for $50 million, while Heard countersued for $100 million.
The Virginia jury rejected nearly all of Heard’s counterclaims, awarding her only $2 million for a single count of her suit. On the other hand, the jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages, but the judge reduced his punitive damages to $350,000, the state’s legal limit.
Effects on Future Domestic Violence Cases
Perhaps the most notable aspect of this case is its online presence and the overwhelming reactions to it, specifically in Depp’s favor. On Twitter and TikTok, hashtags like #JusticeForJohnnyDepp and #MenToo have trended and garnered millions of views. In contrast, online reactions to Heard have been less than favorable. Her testimony was widely mocked, with trending Twitter hashtags declaring #AmberHeardlsApsychopath and #AmberTurd. On TikTok, creators used audio from Heard’s testimony to act out the alleged acts of violence in an effort to show that she was lying. Furthermore, a petition to remove her from the upcoming Aquaman movie has received over 4 million signatures.
Many domestic violence experts have cautioned that the extremely negative responses to Heard, in this case, may have far-reaching repercussions. Experts warn that the severe backlash Heard faced online may deter future domestic violence survivors from reporting their abuse. These survivors may be confronted with a fear of a painful investigation and trial, and a fear of apprehension and disbelief from the community.
Experts also fear that the legal path used by Depp of filing a defamation case may be used in the future by abusers. In fact, the judge in the case actually concluded that the great majority of alleged assaults on Heard by Depp had been proved to the civil standard. However, the trial was not about whether or not the abuse occurred; rather, it was about whether Heard had the right to publicly speak about her alleged experiences. Amongst those accused of domestic violence or sexual assault, there has been a growing trend of using the threat of defamation suits to prevent victims from coming forward.
The crime of domestic violence in the United States is already severely unreported. According to a study from the Department of Justice, only about 40% of victims report instances of abuse to the police. After witnessing the drastic public harassment against Heard, it is likely that this number will decrease even further. Whether or not Heard’s allegations are in fact true, this case may have a disturbing effect on domestic violence cases in the future.
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If you have a question about domestic violence charges or if you are facing a domestic violence accusation, contact Wallin & Klarich for a free consultation with a skilled defense attorney. With 40+ years of experience, Wallin & Klarich is your best choice amongst Southern California criminal defense firms. Our attorneys specialize in family law and defending against domestic violence charges, and we have the skills and resources to take on your case. Domestic violence is a serious matter. If you have been falsely accused, trust Wallin & Klarich to help you clear your name and restore your reputation.
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