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
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] graziamagazine.co.uk