Depp Proved Victims of Occasionally Abusive Men Can be “Primary Abusers”—And Nobody Seems to Have Noticed

One might have supposed everything that could be written about Johnny Depp’s successful defamation lawsuit against Amber Heard would have been printed within forty-eight hours. Yet most commentary presented one or the other as a simple victim—overlooking the most important lesson: Women who are the primary perpetrators in mutually abusive relationships have had the deck stacked in their favor.

Most commentary favorable to the verdict stress the need to assess each case on its own unique facts. Its critics revealed: 1) A tendency to “interpret” facts to fit the presupposition that women making accusations must be truthful. 2) Greater interest in how the verdict would impact real victims’ decisions than the merits of the individual case.

One Vogue article unwittingly gave the game away. Rather than seriously engage the evidence it insisted “It’s time to believe women—all women.” That’s not “guilty until proven innocent.” That excludes the possibility of proving innocence. The article concluded: “British courts believed Depp beat his ex-wife. What’s stopping the rest of us?”

Of course, there’s the evidence Depp’s lawyers amassed. And Heard’s lack of credibility as she contradicted herself, physical evidence and numerous witnesses. And her “explaining” the contradictions as perjury to gain the favor of a powerful man. And the fact that the some “logic” cuts both ways: “An American court believed Depp. What’s stopping us?"

But the key is that a statement can be true within the big picture and defamatory out of context. Take the following example:
  1. A deliberately broke B’s arm without justification.
  2. B pulled a gun on A and attempted to murder him. A disarmed B and neutralized him as a threat—then, out of desire for revenge, deliberately broke B’s arm without justification.
It’s obvious that the first statement is technically accurate. But it’s just as obvious that it distorts the truth. Anyone reading it would assume B was merely an innocent victim—not the primary villain. Indefensible as A’s action was, B’s was worse.

Depp’s lawsuits concerned two different articles. Heard wrote in the Washington Post—referring to her relationship with him—that: “I became a public figure representing domestic abuse.” The Sun called him a “wife-beater.”

How does that compare to the evidence? Lauren Anderson, a therapist who provided Depp and Heard with marriage counseling, testified that:
Heard suffered from personality disorders that inclined her to be abusive and violent.
  1. Depp “had been well-controlled for decades.”
  2. Heard was the first of the couple to become abusive. In time, her abusive behavior “triggered” Depp so that the relationship transitioned from unidirectional abuse to mutual abuse.
  3. Heard was the primary initiator and escalator of confrontations and of violence, Depp the primary de-escalator.
Nearly twenty people confirmed this picture, testifying to: 1) Heard’s physical and verbal abuse of Depp. 2) Heard’s physical and verbal abuse of others. 3) Depp’s physical injuries at Heard’s hands. 4) Heard’s lack of injuries immediately after some of Depp’s alleged assaults. Witnesses included police officers, medical professionals and even Heard’s former friends and employees.

Heard’s witnesses, in contrast, were largely limited to: 1) Her sister—the only person who testified to seeing her abused. 2) Mental health experts who had either failed to evaluate her properly or attempted to evaluate Depp without meeting him in person. 3) People who knew Depp prior to the decades during which he had been “well-controlled.” 4) People who saw Heard injuries but didn't see who initiated the confrontations.

Such evidence proves Heard was the primary perpetrator of abuse, Depp the primary victim. That doesn’t mean Depp never abused her. He sometimes did. But it does mean Heard was much more villain than victim. The American verdict was based on the big picture, the British verdict wasn’t.

What the difference in verdicts proves is that evidence about individual incidents doesn’t equate to evidence about a relationship as a whole. 58% of domestic abuse cases involve mutual abuse between the partners. A majority of domestic abuse is actually perpetrated by women. It is all too easy for women who are primary abusers to produce evidence that they have sometimes been victims—and have their entire relationship be judged on that evidence alone.

Proving they have been the primary victims in such relationships has been extremely difficult for men. Depp has finally done it—revealing a widespread bias in a way that perhaps only a man combining his flaws with his inexplicable popularity could. The time has come to realize that evidence presented by women claiming to be victims is just part of the picture.
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