A "potentially catastrophic" case for victims of domestic violence

A “potentially catastrophic” case for victims of domestic violence

The defamation lawsuit between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp in the United States and its television broadcast will have a “potentially catastrophic” impact for victims of domestic violence, say women’s advocacy organizations. The six weeks of proceedings in court in Fairfax, near Washington, turned into a great unpacking on the private life of the couple of Hollywood stars who accused each other of violence.

Jurors ruled in favor of the “Pirate of the Caribbean” on Wednesday and awarded it just over $10 million in damages, ruling that the 36-year-old actress had defamed her ex-husband by presenting himself as “a personality representing domestic violence” in a column published in 2018, even if Johnny Depp was not mentioned.

A live broadcast, “worst decision for the victims”

Judge Penney Azcarate decided to allow the hearings to be broadcast on television for this highly publicized case, despite the opposition of Amber Heard’s lawyers. For Michele Dauber, a law professor at Stanford University and an activist against sexual assault on campus, it is “the worst decision made by a court in decades for the victims” which shows “a deep misunderstanding of sexual violence from the judge”.

According to her, Amber Heard had to “describe her alleged rape in raw detail on television. It is shocking and it should offend all women and victims, whether they agree with the verdict or not.” The last time a rape victim was forced to testify publicly was in 1983, she said.

“There is no public interest in this case that could possibly outweigh the harm caused,” said Michelle Dauber, saying that now “every victim will think twice before coming forward and asking for a restraining order or tell anyone about the abuse she suffered. “Women can be hurt, even killed, because they don’t call for help. This case was a complete disaster. It is potentially catastrophic,” she concludes.

A fascinated audience

The trial has fascinated a global audience unaccustomed to watching allegations of marital sexual assault and that, regardless of opinions on the verdict, is a problem, also warns Coalition President Ruth Glenn against domestic violence (NCADV). “I don’t think our society yet understands the dynamics of domestic violence,” she told AFP.

This crucial context was not sufficiently discussed during the court proceedings, she believes, saying that for her there is “no doubt” about the types of abuse that were revealed at trial. “We have to make sure that the people present understand this. But as long as we don’t do that, let’s not show this stuff on TV, ”she warns.

What consequences for the #MeToo movement?

Public opinion supported Johnny Depp while his accuser was the subject of “openly misogynistic” insults and jeers on social networks, believes Michele Dauber. Amber Heard suffered “metaphorically the ordeal of tar and feathers,” says the law professor as the judgment was hailed by the American right.

The case also raises the question of the future of the #MeToo movement, a hashtag born in 2017 to encourage women to denounce the perpetrators of harassment and sexual assault. But Tarana Burke, founder of #MeToo, assures on Twitter that “this movement is completely ALIVE”, calling to focus on the courage of millions of women who have spoken out against violence rather than on legal battles, won or lost.

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