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Johnny Depp's career will be fine, and that's part of the problem

Clementine Ford
Published: May 31, 2016 - 12:15AM

For those of us who work to raise awareness of men's violence against women, there are fewer things more demoralising than the constant tide of double standards that rises up to wash away any signs of progress we might be making. The latest example of this can be seen in the public and industry responses to allegations Johnny Depp has been emotionally and physically abusive towards his partner of four years, Amber Heard.

If you haven't heard this story already, let me save you some time and summarise it. A popular, famous man is alleged to have been privately violent to an intimate partner much less famous than him (and, perhaps notably, a lot younger). She is immediately framed as a manipulative 'gold digger', a liar, a scheming Jezebel trying to ruin a good man's life and a harlot whose selfish, destructive actions only make it more difficult for the 'real' victims of domestic violence to come forward. Tale as old as time, etc.

Of course, the 'real' victims of domestic violence are only invoked in situations like this because referencing them is apparently all the proof people need to dismiss someone else's claims. It doesn't seem to matter that most victims and survivors of domestic violence have an experience of being disbelieved by the communities that surround their abusers, nor that the legal system itself shoulders a lot of this guilt. It doesn't matter that victims of 'real' intimate partner violence are only allowed to exist in the minds of much of society when its members are using them to diminish those making current allegations as vengeful liars. The only thing that seems to matter, always, is protecting the eponymous man from the consequences of 'scorned women' and their attempts to destroy his good reputation.

Amber Heard has provided evidence for her claims in the form of photographs and video footage, not to mention at least one eyewitness to the alleged abuse. She's been granted a restraining order against Depp, who must stay 100 yards away from her at all times. Presumably, the allegations will be heard as part of the divorce proceedings.

And yet, there is still a rush to dismiss her allegations with some of the most textbook plays you're likely to find in the But Women Lie handbook. Apparently her failure to file police charges when officers were called to the couple's home indicates she's making it all up - because victims of domestic violence have historically always had so much confidence when it comes to reporting their assailants to authorities, and never refuse to file charges out of fear or even a remaining sense of love for their abusive partner.

Then there's the character testimonials being provided by Depp's family members and former lovers - don't you know he could just never be violent towards anyone? After all, it's not like any perpetrator of gendered violence has ever been publicly supported by their family and friends, all of whom will swear to the heavens that this person is simply the nicest, kindest, most caring human being you could ever meet and no one respects women more than he does.

Finally, her application for spousal support is being used as the great 'A Ha!' moment that evidently proves this is all part of some nefarious plot to rob a great man of his hard-earned fortune. Listen, whether or not you agree with that move is irrelevant to the fact of whether or not intimate partner violence was a bedfellow in the Heard-Depp home. Given the demonstrated likelihood of public backlash and suspicion against a woman alleging domestic violence against a famous man in particular, do you really think someone would be foolish enough to think those claims would strengthen a case for spousal support? As women are so often instructed to do, use your common sense.

When you look at just what awaits a woman who comes forward with allegations of assault against a well-respected man, the question of why more women don't report abuse when it happens becomes null. A better question is why any woman reports it at all, given how comprehensively her own character will be torn apart by a society that still cannot come to grips with the fact that the violence it so consistently warns women to avoid stumbling into is actually perpetrated by real people and not mythical Shadow Men who live somewhere between the curtains of this world and the next. Instead, it simply yells at us to start being 'more sensible' and demands to know 'why don't you leave' and then turns around and screams 'INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY!' whenever allegations surface that shift the spotlight away from women's stupidity and onto men's proactive culpability.

I don't know whether or not Johnny Depp abused Amber Heard. I do know that Heard has come forward with these allegations in an environment that is indisposed to believing women at the best of times, let alone when the subjects of their allegations are men with extraordinary wealth, privilege and power. I do know that, statistically, false allegations for violence against women occur at the same rate as any other crime - and yet no one ever demands that a victim of robbery 'prove' they aren't lying about it. I know that society is generally more comfortable with viewing women as scheming temptresses than it is accepting men can behave differently behind closed doors.

And I also know that, no matter what happens, Johnny Depp's career will not suffer. Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Charlie Sheen, Chris Brown, Michael Fassbender, Sean Penn, Sean Connery - these are just some of the men on the Hollywood roll call of those who've had allegations of abuse against them but have not been tarnished in the slightest by it.

The truth is that this is much bigger than Amber Heard, Johnny Depp and what the public may or may not believe about their relationship. This is about what it's like to be a woman who comes forward about abuse in a culture which refuses at every turn to believe that abuse might actually be real. Heard is just one such woman - but others are watching and taking notes. What happens next might just be the difference between whether or not they speak up and be counted.

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