Vicky Spratt | Deputy Editor | Thursday, 2 June 2016

Amber Heard\'s Gross Public Trial Tells Us A Lot About How The Media Treats Women

Amber Heard's Gross Public Trial Tells Us A Lot About How The Media Treats Women

The Debrief: We need to stop feeding and endorsing a tabloid gossip machine with our clips when it doesn’t afford women, like Heard, who report domestic abuse the same presumption of innocence that it extends to male offenders.

We’re all quick to pass judgement and comment on other peoples' relationships. It’s an ugly trait of the culture we have, one where celebrity gossip makes money and we regularly find ourselves scrolling through ‘sidebars of shame’ to pass the time. We read ‘shocking’ and ‘exclusive’ articles about famous relationships breaking up, marriages dissolving, friends falling out and families feuding while we sleepily make our way into work or have a sneaky afternoon break at our desks.

Humans love gossip. We’re hardwired to chatter about one another. Gossip isn’t always bad but it can be really toxic. Harmless as celebrity gossip might seem it’s easy to forget that these quickly churned out, highly optimised articles are about real people, real lives and real problems.

And, like real people’s real life relationship problems, things are always more complicated than they seem. And, clichéd as it sounds, you never know what goes on behind closed doors. In the last week it seems many people have forgotten that.

When news broke at the end of last week that Amber Heard was filing for divorce from Johnny Depp and had made allegations of domestic abuse against him many people, his ex-wife and daughter included, were quick to publically leap to Depp’s defence. The tabloid press was equally quick to condemn Heard and cast aspersions about her intentions, her career stability and her financial stability whilst speculating about her reliability and her sexuality.

Amber Heard was filing for divorce through the proper channels when the pictures of the alleged abuse she had suffered at the hands of Depp were leaked to the press. They are now due to appear on the cover of People Magazine’s June issue, which goes on sale in the US tomorrow.

I'm guessing you probably don’t know Amber Heard personally. I'm going to go even further and say that you’ll probably never know her. It follows, then, that you know more or less nothing about her so why is the logical reaction to her being granted a restraining order against the estranged husband that she’s divorcing to call her character into question?

Why did the media think it was acceptable to call Heard into question in this way? To put her on trial in her own case as though a woman with a black eye who’s saying she’s been domestically abused is immediately an unreliable witness because of her age and previous sexual history? The answer is the same reason that Chris Brown still has a career after he assaulted Rihanna during their relationship or why Kesha currently finds herself locked in a seemingly endless legal battle.

When it comes to domestic violence cases in particular made by a woman against a man – both involving celebrities and non-famous people – it seems that society deploys the maxim ‘innocent until proven guilty’ for male perpetrators and even extends it to ‘innocent even when proven guilty’. Whilst female victims of domestic abuse are deceitful and even deserving until proven otherwise. Somehow women who come forwards are victim-shamed and blamed by a public jury even when they’re on the right side of morals, ethics and the law. With the treatment Amber Heard has received in the last seven days is it any wonder that cases of domestic violence are woefully under-reported and that help for victims of it is woefully under-resourced (as activist group Sisters Uncut continues to shine a light on)?

There was much speculation about the fact that Heard had not given police a statement which she herself was forced to respond to earlier this week. She released a statement via her lawyers which explained that she had now given the LAPD a full statement and had decided not to release a public statement before that point in an attempt to ensuring her privacy.

It read: ‘Amber can no longer endure the relentless attacks and outright lies launched against her character in the Court of Public Opinion since the tragic events of May 21st.  With her statement Amber hopes to give the LAPD the opportunity to conduct an accurate and complete investigation into the events of that evening and before. If that occurs, and the truth is revealed, there is no doubt that Amber’s claims will be substantiated beyond any doubt, and hopefully Johnny will get the help that he so desperately needs.’

Today the public gallery has been presented more evidence by the press of the extent of the unravelling of Depp and Heard’s marriage, on which verdicts will no doubt be delivered imminently.  This evidence takes the form of text messages, reportedly exchanged between Heard and Depp’s assistant, Stephen Deuters.

The messages, which have been obtained by Entertainment today, are purportedly from May 2014 and appear to show that there were instances of alleged violence by Depp against Heard before the couple had married.

A texter, allegedly Stephen, says ‘think he’s just texted you. He’s incredibly apologetic and knows that he has done wrong. He wants to get better now. He’s been very explicit about that this morning. Feel like we’re at a critical juncture.’

The message continues: ‘he was appalled. When I told him he kicked you, he cried. It was disgusting. And he knows it.’

A second texter, reportedly Heard, replies by saying ‘he’s done this many times before. Tokyo, the island, London (remember that?!), and I always stay. Always believe he’s going to get better…’ 

Whether these texts are confirmed as being between Depp’s assistant and Heard is irrelevant at this point as are her age, sexuality, occupation, wealth and appearance. What goes on behind closed doors in the lives of other people, both in and out of the public eye, is unknowable. It’s also (unless it’s affecting those we are IRL close to or related to) not our business which is worth bearing in mind every time we click on a ‘scandalous’ headline about someone’s private life being laid bare, in public, for all to see. It's also worth bearing in mind that just because you can't see something doesn't make it real - domestic violence, by its very nature, often happens in private at the hands of people known very well to and even loved by its victims.

The outcome of this one is for an actual court to decide. What matters is that we all take notice of the way that Heard has been dragged through a public court over the last week in which the press have played the role of judge and jury. She has been criticised, shamed and accused. Conclusions have been jumped to without evidence. We need to stop feeding and endorsing a tabloid gossip machine with our clips when it doesn’t afford women, like Heard, who report domestic abuse the same presumption of innocence that it extends to male offenders.

You might also be interested in:

What To Do When Your Friend's Been Hit By Her Boyfriend

5 Reasons That Editing Bruises Onto Celebrities For Domestic Violence Sucks

'How My Perfect Boyfriend Turned My Life Into Living Nightmare'

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

Tags: Domestic abuse, Domestic violence