Sink or swim? Story be­hind Am­ber’s red-car­pet state­ment

When a rapist was given the right to ap­ply for ac­cess to his son last week, the mother and vic­tim Sammy Wood­house waived her right to anonymity to ex­press out­rage over our dated rape laws. So­phie Wilkin­son re­ports

Grazia (UK) - - 10 Hot_ Stories -

WEAR­ING A show-stop­ping Valentino cou­ture bro­cade gown and match­ing swim cap, Am­ber Heard made a se­ri­ous en­trance at the pre­miere of her new film, Aqua­man, in Lon­don last week. But for the ac­tor, the rea­son to go all-out on the red car­pet ran much deeper than win­ning fash­ion ac­claim.

‘ There’s a huge amount rid­ing on this movie for Am­ber and it’s af­fect­ing ev­ery de­ci­sion she makes,’ an insider close to her tells Grazia. ‘ The irony of turn­ing up to the pre­miere of her first ma­jor role since di­vorc­ing Johnny Depp and look­ing as though she might sink or swim was not lost on her – it was a state­ment. She’s been to hell and back and she’s hop­ing that this could mark a new era for her if the film is a hit.’

Cer­tainly, Am­ber’s movie ca­reer has been in limbo since her bit­ter 2016 di­vorce from Johnny (who is cur­rently star­ring in the Fan­tas­tic Beasts se­quel) amid claims of do­mes­tic abuse, which he has de­nied. ‘Am­ber be­lieves this is her last roll of the dice in terms of be­ing el­e­vated to a bona-fide movie star, and the fact the film is closely fol­low­ing a block­buster star­ring Johnny has only made her more de­ter­mined to give it her best shot,’ the insider adds. ‘She sees this as her chance to leave the drama of her di­vorce be­hind her and be part of some­thing big­ger than be­ing known as the ac­tress who was once mar­ried to Johnny Depp.’

Am­ber, 32, sought a re­strain­ing or­der against Johnny, 55, just a week af­ter she filed to end their 15-month mar­riage, claim­ing he had been abu­sive on sev­eral oc­ca­sions. How­ever, fol­low­ing a $7m out-of-court set­tle­ment in Jan­uary 2017, the for­mer cou­ple re­leased a joint state­ment say­ing ‘there was never any in­tent of phys­i­cal or emo­tional harm’.

Yet, when asked about do­mes­tic abuse last week, Am­ber told US Glam­our, ‘ When a woman comes for­ward, she’ll be met with scep­ti­cism, hos­til­ity and shame. All a man has to do is point to an in­cen­tive. He will. Or so­ci­ety will.’

So is the film any good? Early re­views of the $160m bud­get film have been promis­ing, with one critic gush­ing that it’s a ‘ big, fun, wild ride’, while oth­ers praised Am­ber’s on-screen chem­istry with Ja­son Mo­moa.

Our insider adds: ‘Am­ber has al­ways felt that her sta­tus in Hol­ly­wood has been in jeop­ardy from the mo­ment the abuse claims were made. But if the film is a suc­cess, Am­ber feels as though she can fi­nally step out from the shadow of the nasty di­vorce. There’s no doubt this is her big mo­ment.’

SAMMY WOOD­HOUSE, a Rother­ham groom­ing gang sur­vivor, started a na­tional de­bate last week over whether rape laws are stacked against women, af­ter her rapist was of­fered ac­cess to their son. The cam­paigner, who was 15 when she be­came preg­nant af­ter an at­tack by Ar­shid Hus­sain, was told by Rother­ham Coun­cil that he has a right to ac­cess to his son, even though, Sammy, 33, says, ‘He is a dan­ger to me and my child. I can’t bear to think of him near our fam­ily.’

Hus­sain was sen­tenced to 35 years in prison in 2016 for the sex­ual abuse and groom­ing of more than 50 girls, in­clud­ing Sammy. ‘I hon­estly thought I’d never have to deal with this man again,’ she said last week. ‘I thought, “This is it, my life can fi­nally start over.” But I was wrong.’

Sammy is now call­ing on MPS to close the le­gal loop­hole to ‘en­sure no rapist can ap­ply for ac­cess to a child con­ceived through abuse and rape’, aided by a pe­ti­tion that has to date at­tracted over 270,000 sig­na­tures.

Rother­ham Coun­cil, which con­tacted Hus­sain with­out Sammy’s knowl­edge, say­ing he could re­quest prison vis­its from her son, won’t com­ment on in­di­vid­ual cases but is­sued a state­ment say­ing it ‘wel­comed the de­bate around this is­sue’.

Sammy’s case isn’t the only in­ci­dent that’s thrown light on how rape laws are let­ting down women. In 2017, only 15% of rape cases re­ported even made it to court. And Stock­port MP Ann Cof­fey has un­cov­ered fig­ures show­ing that while 45% of men aged 25-59 charged with rape are con­victed, this drops to un­der a third of those aged 18-24 – prompt­ing her to call for ju­ries to be scrapped from rape tri­als. ‘ The huge is­sue is ju­rors’ un­der­stand­ing of con­sent,’ she told Grazia, adding that the pub­lic is sus­cep­ti­ble to be­liev­ing, ‘All the rape myths, which, ex­cept for the “Why would he need to com­mit rape, he’s a good-look­ing man?” one, are myths about women and their be­hav­iour.’

Vic­tim-blam­ing myths sug­gest­ing al­co­hol in­take, short skirts, a kindly worded text, pre­vi­ous sex­ual be­hav­iour or – as in Sammy’s case – be­ing in thrall to her abuser count as con­sent are exploited by de­fence teams, says Cof­fey. ‘A bar­ris­ter whose job is to get their client off knows they can play into the myth with their ques­tion­ing,’ she says.

Re­ports of rape have risen by 250% since 2013, but pros­e­cu­tion rates are at a 10-year low. The prob­lem isn’t women re­port­ing, Cof­fey says, ‘It’s how the sys­tem re­sponds.’ As well as scrap­ping ju­ries, she pro­poses ‘pre­re­corded cross ex­am­i­na­tion’ and ‘a wider pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of rape myths’.

How­ever, while so­cial jus­tice cam­paigner Baroness He­lena Kennedy agrees un­do­ing rape myths is key, she dis­agrees with dis­pens­ing with ju­ries: ‘Law schools, judges, pros­e­cu­tors and de­fence lawyers and ju­ries should be trained. They have to ad­dress their own at­ti­tudes to­wards rape… Once you turn it into just old judges, don’t kid your­self that’s go­ing to be a great im­prove­ment.’

The per­ni­cious nor­mal­i­sa­tion of rape myths was un­der­lined by a re­port pub­lished last week show­ing a third of crim­i­nal bar­ris­ters find rape case rules un­clear, in par­tic­u­lar those pre­vent­ing vic­tims from be­ing ques­tioned on pre­vi­ous sex­ual his­tory.

Rachel Krys, co-di­rec­tor of the End Vi­o­lence Against Women Coali­tion, told Grazia, ‘ We have to get bet­ter at pros­e­cut­ing rape. Oth­er­wise, we’re say­ing to rapists… you’re fine, you won’t be held to ac­count.’

Sammy has a sim­pler mes­sage. ‘As a rape vic­tim, I’m told he’s got hu­man rights. Well what about my hu­man rights?’ Have your say: email feed­[email protected] grazia­

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