By Steph Lacey & Laura Fitzgerald
On 1 June 2022 a jury of five men and two women took away Amber Heard’s right to call herself a victim.
Being found guilty of defamation is not the same as lying about domestic violence, but like every other aspect of this trial, the online commentary contrasts sharply with the actual evidence in court.
Sexist double standards
While Heard was present in court to hear how, even though she has already proven in court that she’s a survivor of abuse, she’s not allowed to say it, Johnny Depp was over at the other side of the world playing gigs. And much like his behaviour in court, if that had been Heard she would have been destroyed online in an example of the sexist double standards rife in the media and social media circus surrounding the trial.
It was already legally determined that Johnny Depp was an abuser. This suit just says that Heard doesn’t have the right to talk about it because it will cost Depp work and money. Heard already has rulings from a London court in a previous libel case that deemed that Depp had abused Heard in at least 12 incidents.
Depp’s wealth funds smear campaign
This wasn’t a trial, it was a smear campaign. The “DARVO” tactic of abuse perpetrators has been taken to a new level in the hands of a rich and powerful movie star – able to use his wealth and fame to “deny, attack and reverse victim and offender” in front of the world. In fact, Depp and his team have weaponised the internet on a level we have never seen. All the social media corporations who’ve profited from this are complicit.
Depp, who is purported to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was able to use his vast wealth to employ a top-notch unscrupulous legal and social media retinue to vilify Heard, and spread damaging myths about the dynamics of abuse in the process, on an unprecedented scale.
This includes perpetuating the dangerous idea that if you’re charming and popular you cannot be an abuser. And by the same token that if you’re an imperfect person whose behaviour or moral character can be questioned, you cannot be a victim of abuse – in essence, a thinly veiled notion that you deserve it, or were asking for it. Amber Heard may be easy prey in this regard – but follow the misogynistic logic and, in essence, claims of “mutual abuse” will be what every victim of intimate partner violence is met with, because the flawless victim is just as much of a myth as is the impossibility of a charming perpetrator.
Retrograde step for all victims
The outcome in which Amber Heard has to pay ten million dollars in damages to Depp for defamation – in an Op Ed in which she didn’t name him but mentioned being a victim of domestic violence, harrowingly and presciently entitled, “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.” – is a retrograde step for victims of domestic violence of all genders.
The jury was not sequestered, meaning they were bombarded like everyone else by the vicious online propaganda. One juror’s wife had texted him before the trial saying, “Amber Heard is psychotic.” When asked if that would affect his decision, he said no, and he was then picked to sit on the jury.
While footage of Depp celebrating with the court stenographer and shaking hands with the courtroom security circulate, we are painfully reminded that no amount of evidence seems to be enough to counter powerful, well-loved rich men in a legal system that is deliberately designed in favour of them.
The only outcome this trial will have is to further silence victims and empower abusers, especially ones who have money, power and time on their hands to further their abuse through courts that were never designed to deliver justice. The verdict of this case has set a chilling precedent. If a woman sues for gender descrimination, sexual assault or harassment then they can be successfully countersued if the man feels wronged, and has power and money.
Moreover, this verdict is emblematic of capitalist society being more concerned with protecting men from allegations of violence than it is with protecting women from actual violence.
Silence of liberal feminists
There is much talk about this verdict being the death of #MeToo. What it must be is a wake up call.
Amber Heard publicly supported #MeToo and #TimesUp. Despite this, the silence, for the most part, of liberal feminist organisations and figures that she was met with during the ordeal of this public show trial and verdict is itself a comment on the limits of a tame feminism that stays within the parameters of the capitalist system.
We need socialist feminism, now more than ever. A feminism of struggle, of solidarity, of anti-capitalism and of socialism. The power of #MeToo in allowing a space for the millions and millions of survivors to speak their truth individually and collectively in solidarity with one another was groundbreaking. Depp’s narcissistic campaign and its victory constitute a significant backlash that has to be met with a deeper and more radical mass struggle.
Deeper socialist feminist struggle needed
Our movement to end gender-based violence must be rooted in an anti-capitalism that fights for universal access to quality, affordable public housing; free healthcare, including mental health care, abortion and gender affirming care; universal, progressive, consent-based LGBTQ-inclusive sex education for all youth in a secular and integrated public system; and more. It must be a struggle built on mass action – demonstrations, marches, occupations, strikes – that can deliver real change for the working-class and young people driving it, and that can fight for democratic control over the media, the courts and the police to end the misogynistic, racist, LGBTQ-phobic and anti working-class biases embedded in them.
For socialist feminists, building a movement to end gender-based violence has to be inextricably linked to the broader necessity for a movement that unites the whole working class and oppressed for socialist change – the public ownership and democratic planning of wealth and resources in the interests of people and the planet, not profit. By eliminating the class divide at the heart of the profit system, a socialist alternative to capitalism would provide the basis to build a society free from all oppression.
The struggle for this type of change cannot happen without ensuring all forms of oppression, including gender-based violence and abuse, are relentlessly fought at every turn.