The Way We Talk about Amber Heard Says a Lot about How We Treat Victims of Abuse

The photos were straight out of a horror movie. The mirror was covered in dried blood and stark, black paint and the words were written in an eery, dripping font.

“Starring Billy Bob & Easy Amber,” it said.

And just like any scary movie, the culprit was, to many, unexpected. The one who had written in blood was none other than actor Johnny Depp.

The photos of the defamed mirror appeared online and served as a piece of evidence in the public trial of Amber Heard vs. Johnny Depp, giving many people the tangible proof they needed after Heard reported that Depp abused her.

Here’s the thing: a public investigation is not necessary nor is the surrounding conversation at all healthy. There should be no need for graphic photos as a telltale sign of a victim’s trauma.

Amber Heard has been called a liar, been diminished to a “gold digger” and painted as a conniving, sneaky failed actress searching only for attention. She was questioned for smiling amidst the trial and her sexuality was often brought up as evidence for why she couldn’t be trusted. She was blamed for leaking evidence, despite immediately saying she was not the source of the photos. Heard was given a guilty status from the beginning of her divorce and questioned incessantly.

Why do we automatically question women who have reported being abused?

It isn’t fair that photographic evidence has to enter the court of public opinion for Amber Heard to be considered innocent. Amber Heard is not the perpetrator nor is she the defendant. Amber Heard is simply someone who sought to escape her marriage and her abuser.

Yes, we could discuss the evidence. There is the bruise in the shape of an iPhone, the emotional trauma she admits to feeling, the damning video, and the myriad of other major signs pointing towards Johnny Depp as a domestic abuser. But in the end, this list only seems to perpetuate Amber Heard’s pain, it only satiates what I believe is a sexist need for male validation over an abused female’s experience. Are we not just making a woman relive her traumas only for the sake of our authentication?

Abuse victims do not need your validation. Survivors do not owe you anything. You are not the judge nor the jury. You do not have the power to authenticate or diminish the suffering that another human has gone through and you certainly should not feel compelled to. By diminishing survivors’ experiences to constant questioning and skepticism, you are only serving to discourage victims from further reporting their abuse. Victims are not liars.

Upworthy points out that from 2001 to 2012, nearly 12,000 women were killed by their husbands or boyfriends in incidents stemming from domestic abuse. To put that into perspective, that’s more women killed than American troops killed in Iran and Afghanistan, as well as people killed in terror attacks, in the very same time period. According to DomesticAbuseShelter.org, a woman is more likely to be killed by a male partner or former partner than by anyone else. Approximately 75% of women who are killed by batterers are killed when they attempt to leave or have left the relationship. These statistics point greatly to the fact that, for the most part, abuse is a huge problem and one that we should discuss through the scope of belief and not of victim-shaming. There aren’t many statistics on how many women lie about being abused because, quite frankly, most do not. These numbers are high because of the sheer amount of incidents, true, genuine domestic abuse cases, that contribute to them. Nobody should have to die for their abuse to be deemed real. These statistics are the results of the fear of disbelief.

I don’t know Amber Heard, but I imagine ending her marriage and reporting the abuse she suffered at the hands of her husband, a very much beloved A-list celebrity, could not have been easy. Compounded with being legally torn apart and having her past critically examined by the likes of TMZ and online trolls, Heard served as an example to abuse victims that the hardships do not end in physically escaping or detaching oneself from their abuser.

She served as an example that anything could come into play in a totally different trial of one’s “status” as a victim. The message to victims of abuse was that they could not smile, they could not move on, they could not leave, and that they were never innocent until there were signs of true horror, until there was palpable, gasp-inducing pain. The message was that victims, especially those with less financial worth than their abuser, were not to be trusted. There had to be blood.

Another example would be that of Rihanna, who had to endure leaked online photos of her bruised and bloodied face leaked online for the world to see. The singer’s trauma was exposed and raw for the public to comment on, to bemoan and give their own seal of approval/disapproval. It seemed as though people had to see it with their own eyes in order to trust what was an already gruesome, disturbing story.

Victims of abuse should not be subject to an extreme public interest in their purported-guilt and the fascination with the proof of their pain and battering. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether their scars will be reopened by those they don’t know providing their own criticisms. They should not have to live in fear of what they are often embarrassed about coming to light.

Often, the rhetoric surrounding abuse focuses on the flaws or mistakes of the victim. Amber Heard is not perfect, but that is also completely irrelevant to the discussion. Nobody is perfect and nobody deserves to be abused. It’s absolutely disgusting that people feel the need to defend physical abuse by pointing out the emotional flaws or societally disapproved actions of a survivor. It does not matter what Amber Heard said, what her sexuality was, or whether or not infidelity occurred, she does not deserve to be abused.

Victims are given a choice by these forms of perpetuated messages. They can remain in their relationships, which I’d like to point out is not a “weak” or uncommon thing to do, or they can attempt to escape and bear the brunt of a society automatically not in their favor, one that requires them to be unnecessarily vulnerable, open, graphic, and “adequately” emotional.

The way we discuss and treat abuse is important because abuse is not uncommon. According to the NCDAV, one in four women will be abused. Every nine seconds, a woman is abused in the U.S. alone. Abuse is not rare, and though you probably know a victim, that shouldn’t be the only reason you abstain from talking negatively about victims of abuse. You should not have to know or love a victim to feel empathy for their experience.

Heard has recently said that all of the money she was awarded from her trial will be donated to different causes, one of which will be the ACLU, in order to aid other survivors of domestic abuse. She is donating $7 million total.

I applaud Amber Heard for entering a public sphere that was so aggressively against her, but mostly I admire her for leaving her abuser, something that is incredibly difficult for so many people to do, let alone under the harsh gaze of a sexist, unforgiving public.

In the end, I’d urge you to examine the way you discuss abuse and the survivors of mistreatment by those they love. Victim-blaming only serves to keep victims from becoming survivors.

For Amber Heard, I hope the horror is over. And to quote her, “Hopefully this experience results in a positive change in the lives of people who need it the most.”

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