Amber Heard: Why She Wasn’t Believed
With the Depps divorcing last week, we look at the way we treat women who report abuse
‘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