One More Amber Heard and Johnny Depp Think Piece

We didn’t want to write this piece. The Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard case has been publicly dissected to the point that everyone has their own opinion of who is right or wrong. Even domestic violence survivors are taking different views – many see themselves in Johnny Depp, and others see themselves in Amber Heard. At Safe+Sound Somerset, we are more concerned with the impacts of the case on survivors than who “won” in court and the media.

The Hard Truths that Safe+Sound Somerset Operates Within

As a domestic violence and sexual assault services provider, Safe+Sound Somerset’s role is to believe whoever comes to us for help.

We are not factfinders. It will not help the people we work with to choose either Depp or Heard’s claims. National domestic violence advocacy groups have made public statements, and we were hoping that those would suffice until this case could blow over.

Sadly, this case is not going to simply blow over without consequences. The trials pervasiveness has influenced the public discourse so that it in just a few weeks it has changed how our society perceives and talks about domestic violence. The media coverage has turned this case – has turned domestic and sexual violence – into something to be entertained by or to gawk at.

Safe+Sound Somerset staff have already seen how this case is impacting our work, making it harder to respond to and prevent domestic and sexual violence. To our clients, their abuse is not funny and is not dependent on other people’s perceptions of its validity – it’s life and death. Conversations about this case have permeated client sessions, education events, and meetings with community groups.

Last year, we served over 5,200 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and we provided education and training programs to more than 5,800 community members. While it is not our role as an organization to find the truth in Depp v. Heard, following are some truths that survivors, our clients, and our organization operate under every day.

It is possible for someone who is being harmed to also cause harm.  That doesn’t make their pain any less real.

Many people are dismissing the case by saying “both were abusing each other.” This view can be misleading because it fails to consider the role that power and control plays in domestic violence. Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors one partner uses to gain power and control over the other – it can be physical, emotional, verbal, financial, or any combination thereof. At the center of domestic violence is oppression and taking away someone’s power.

Toxic, unhealthy, or violent behaviors that cause harm are not abusive if the purpose of these actions is not to gain control over someone else. What differentiates these actions from abuse is power. While there may be some instances where coercive control is used by both parties, most of our clients report that if they try to defend themselves or react to the coercive control, their abuser says, “You’re being abusive too,” to gain more control, invalidate their experiences and turn others against them.

Men can absolutely be victims of domestic violence. In fact, 1 in 4 cisgender men will experience either physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

At Safe+Sound Somerset, we understand this better than most. Over 12% of our clients last year were men. We accept people regardless of gender identity into our safe house, and other female clients in the house have commented that the male survivors “are experiencing the same things that we are.”

Anyone can be a target of domestic abuse – 1 in 4 cisgender men, 1 in 3 cisgender women, and 1 in 2 transgender or non-binary individuals will experience abuse at the hands of people of every gender identity and sexual orientation. It is important to remember that people can perpetrate abuse even if they are well-liked, popular, or have clean records. And many abusers, male and female, gain additional power and control by accusing their victims of being abusive too.

There is no one profile of what a domestic violence victim looks or acts like.

The experiences and reactions of survivors are deeply individual. Each person will have different trauma responses or coping skills that make them react differently from other victims. People who are “not perfect” can be victims of domestic violence and they are just as worthy of belief, of support, and safety as anyone else. Survivors include people who lie, abuse substances, have committed crimes, struggle with mental illness, are on the PTA, run companies, and go to church. Many of our clients have had people dismiss their experience because they didn’t “act like a victim” or “look like a victim.” This attitude harms survivors and prevents other survivors from disclosing domestic violence.

In our school prevention programs, reaching over 15,000 teens to-date, our preventionists have been asked countless times, “What about false accusations?”

This question is often posed to show that abuse isn’t real or serious. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Various studies suggest that false allegations of sexual assault are extremely low, with estimates ranging from 2 to 10% (Lisak, 2010). The US Bureau of Justice reported that less than half of domestic violence cases are ever reported at all.  If someone discloses abuse, it is much more likely that they are telling the truth than making false accusations. At Safe+Sound Somerset, we will compassionately work with everyone who says they need help, even if others accuse them of lying.

Every day, domestic violence survivors go to court trying to prove what has happened to them and show that they are still in danger.

Most of them do not have lawyers and are representing themselves. Many of them do not have solid proof of the abuse. Domestic abuse is purposeful, and the people who use violence in a relationship are typically good at keeping up appearances and covering up their tracks.

Sometimes, even “proof” is often not enough. We have had clients with recordings of threats, screenshots of harassment, and journal entries filled with the dates and times of incidents who still are not granted legal protection, still decided against, and dismissed as not credible.

Regardless of the facts of the Depp v Heard case, we fear that “credibility” will be harder and harder for survivors to achieve as systems try to appear strong against false accusations.

Despite any facts related to this case, billions of social media posts in response to it are filled with misogyny, hate, threats of violence, misinformation and gaslighting – even as they claim support of male victims of domestic violence. In our experience, violence breeds violence. By continuing to fuel violence against others, even those who may have caused harm, these types of posts support the attitudes that allow domestic violence to exist and make it harder for all domestic violence survivors, including men, to get the support and safety they need.

If Amber Heard called us saying she was a survivor of abuse and needed services, we would serve her. If Johnny Depp called us saying he was survivor of abuse and needed services, we would serve him.

Safe+Sound Somerset does not ask for proof from the people who call us, and we continue to stand by survivors even (especially) if systems rule against them. We are committed to providing safety tools, advocacy, and healing services to all survivors of abuse regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

We Believe Survivors. We are here for you.

If you call or text our 24/7 helpline, our advocates will be ready to hear your story, and answer your call for help with compassion and understanding. Call or text our 24-hour confidential helpline at 866-685-1122. Additional information can be found online at www.safe-sound.org.