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The Heard v. Depp Trial is Finally Over—The Biggest Winner Was Misogyny

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Johnny Depp waves to his fans as he smokes a cigarette during a recess outside court during the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard civil trial at Fairfax County Circuit Court on May 25, 2022.  (Cliff Owen/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

The verdict is in, and it’s strangely fitting: Everybody lost.

On Wednesday afternoon, a jury came to the conclusion that Johnny Depp and Amber Heard had defamed each other after a livestreamed trial that was as long as it was disturbing. In the end, the jury awarded Depp $10.35 million of the $50 million he sought from his ex-wife over the 2018 Washington Post op-ed in which she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” They awarded Heard $2 million of the $100 million she sought when she counter-sued him.

Beyond the difference in amounts, the person who lost the most in this trial is Amber Heard. Heard, whose life has been on hold for the last four years while her ex-husband doggedly pursued her and dragged her through courts on both sides of the Atlantic. Heard, who has been painted online as a conniving villain despite a British High Court judge concluding in 2020 that she “was the victim of sustained and multiple assaults by Mr. Depp.” Heard, who survived an obviously excruciating marriage, only to become the subject of excruciating public ridicule.

Amber Heard listens in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse, May 23, 2022. (STEVE HELBER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s clear that Depp’s regular reliance on alcohol and drugs made their situation at home hellish. Heard, unfortunately, did not react to that difficult set of circumstances in the way the world expects (or wants) to see from a woman experiencing abuse. She didn’t cower. Instead, she lost her temper, she mocked him, and (as she admitted in one infamous recording) she hit him.

Amber Heard’s biggest crime of all, probably, was repeatedly lying about donating her $7 million divorce settlement. (She donated $1.3 million, but not all of that came directly from her.) Because of that lie, an assumption took hold that Depp couldn’t possibly have assaulted Heard in the ways she described. (And make no mistake, her testimony about those alleged assaults has often been harrowing.) Apparently, in the court of public opinion, if you lie about one thing, you must be lying about everything—even credible abuse claims backed by a mountain of photos and messages.

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“She’s begging for total global humiliation,” Depp wrote about Heard in one furious 2016 text. “She’s gonna get it.”

It took him six years, but there can be no doubt that Depp, with the help of his fans and his privilege, has now thoroughly succeeded in that revenge mission.

With Depp back to swanning around the world, playing guitar for supportive rock stars, it’s important to look beyond the two flawed characters at the center of this awful case. Because the most damage sustained in all of this isn’t to Heard or to Depp—it was to the survivors of domestic abuse and intimate partner violence who’ve been watching in horror for the last six weeks.

That damage has been inflicted on multiple fronts throughout this trial, and relentlessly so. It was inflicted inside the courtroom, when we saw Heard’s dating history and friendships with men picked apart, as if those relationships were grounds to doubt the likelihood she’d been assaulted. (It felt reminiscent of the recent past when rape survivors were still routinely asked about their sexual histories.)

Online and outside the courtroom, Heard was subjected to mockery, abuse and hatred by people whose support for her more famous husband was persistently aggressive. She was talked about as if she were the one pursuing him in court, not the other way around. And fellow celebrities have piled on too. When Chris Rock said “Believe all women except Amber Heard” a couple weeks ago, far too many people laughed along.

Just months after Framing Britney Spears, Impeachment: American Crime Story, and Pam & Tommy all suggested America no longer eviscerated famous women in public for cheap laughs, the response to this trial has unequivocally proven otherwise.

Worst of all, the decision against Heard will serve to silence abuse survivors. Because—and it’s important to remind ourselves of this—Amber Heard did not name Johnny Depp in the Washington Post article that prompted Depp’s lawsuit. Dots could be connected because of the couple’s high-profile marriage, and the 2016 restraining order she filed against him for abusing her while under the influence. But she did not name him.

Not only will this knowledge prevent other survivors from speaking publicly or writing about their abuse, it puts in particular jeopardy any and all famous activists who’ve led their relationships in the public eye.

Consider Evan Rachel Wood, who campaigned successfully to extend the statute of limitations for domestic violence in California. Part of what made her such a compelling witness was the harrowing testimony she gave about the intimate partner violence she suffered at the hands of an anonymous former boyfriend. (The world now knows him to be Marilyn Manson—a figure that came up in the Depp v. Heard trial due to his close friendship with Depp.) Would Wood give that testimony now, before cameras and on the record, knowing the verdict that just landed on Heard? If people can’t speak out about their experiences with abuse while granting their abusers anonymity, when can they speak at all?

Almost everything about this trial has been a keen reminder of the Bad Old Days. The days when a woman had to be a stoic and saintly image of victimhood in order to be believed. The days when a man’s appalling private behavior could be ignored by the masses because he was a beloved public figure. The days when it was acceptable to demonize and bully a woman because she said things about a famous man that the world would rather not hear. The days when bystanders pointing any of these things out online would earn them a swift and proverbial beatdown.

Amber Heard supporter Daniel Lee, 26, is flipped off by a Johnny Depp supporter outside court during the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard civil trial at Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia on May 27, 2022. (Cliff Owen/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

This whole trial has been a depressing and demoralizing mess. It is a confirmation that we still live in a place where, when it comes to a complicated he-said-she-said, the winner will always be the one with the most power, the most fans, the most money to buy the best lawyers, and the biggest reserves of good old fashioned misogyny to deploy.

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Amber Heard and Johnny Depp both lost today. But it’s America that’s losing the most.

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