Amber Heard: Why She Wasn’t Be­lieved

With the Depps di­vorc­ing last week, we look at the way we treat women who re­port abuse

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‘W***e’; ‘He wouldn’t do it’; th­ese are just some of the re­marks that have been thrown around in the three months since Amber Heard ac­cused her ex-hus­band Johnny Depp of phys­i­cal and emo­tional abuse. Last week the former cou­ple set­tled their di­vorce, with Johnny agree­ing to pay Amber a re­ported sum of around £5.4 mil­lion as she with­drew her re­quest for a re­strain­ing or­der against the 53-year-old ac­tor.

They put out a joint state­ment that read: ‘Our re­la­tion­ship was pas­sion­ate and at times volatile, but al­ways bound by love. Nei­ther party has made false ac­cu­sa­tions for fi­nan­cial gain. There was never any in­tent of phys­i­cal or emo­tional harm. Amber wishes the best for Johnny.’

Their agree­ment fol­lowed the re­lease of a video that showed an an­gry Johnny smash­ing into their kitchen cup­boards, scream­ing at 30-year-old Amber: ‘You want crazy? I’ll show you some­thing crazy,’ while drinking from a large glass of wine.

Amber has do­nated her full di­vorce set­tle­ment to char­i­ties that work with abused women. But the legacy of their short-lived mar­riage brings up big­ger ques­tions about the way so­ci­ety treats women who speak out. Why was it so hard for peo­ple to be­lieve Amber?

De­spite a shocking one in four women ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some form of abuse in their life­time, as lit­tle as 15 per cent of those will re­port it and of­ten they won’t be be­lieved. ‘As a so­ci­ety – and es­pe­cially as women – we tend to side with the stronger per­son, which is of­ten the man,’ ex­plains psy­chol­o­gist Leila Collins. ‘Peo­ple say: “He couldn’t have done that.” They don’t be­lieve the woman.’

She points out that the idea some­one has been abused and that a woman might want fi­nan­cial repa­ra­tion aren’t mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. ‘A woman can be a gold-dig­ger, but if a man was vi­o­lent to­wards her then he has some­thing to an­swer for. Peo­ple tend to get con­fused that the two things can’t both hap­pen at once.’

San­dra Hor­ley, chief ex­ec­u­tive of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence sup­port char­ity Refuge, ex­plains that an­other prob­lem is that peo­ple of­ten also see women’s in­abil­ity to leave their part­ner as their prob­lem. ‘Time and again peo­ple ask: “Why doesn’t she leave?” This im­plies there’s some­thing wrong with the abused woman – that she’s some­how re­spon­si­ble for the abuse she’s ex­pe­ri­enc­ing. Abuse is never the woman’s fault; the per­pe­tra­tor is solely re­spon­si­ble for his vi­o­lent be­hav­iour.’

San­dra ex­plains that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is all about power and con­trol: ‘It’s a pat­tern of be­hav­iour that of­ten in­volves ex­treme jeal­ousy and pos­ses­sive­ness, hu­mil­i­a­tion and in­tim­i­da­tion,’ ad­ding that we need to un­der­stand that abu­sive men ‘aren’t “vi­o­lent mon­sters” all of the time. They dis­tort a woman’s re­al­ity by switch­ing read­ily be­tween charm and rage, like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, Which can leave some women hop­ing they will change.

San­dra says that, on av­er­age, it takes a woman seven times be­fore she makes the fi­nal break and of­ten women fear they won’t be be­lieved – and many aren’t.

‘The prob­lem is sex­ism and misog­yny,’ says Leila. ‘There are a lot of si­lenced women out there and we need to give them the free­dom to speak out.’ We couldn’t agree more.

We need to give Women the free­dom to Speak out

Many peo­ple found it hard to be­lieve Amber

The cou­ple in hap­pier times

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