On Friday, only several days after filing for divorce, actress Amber Heard was granted a domestic violence restraining order against husband Johnny Depp. She had filed the restraining order earlier that day, along with a picture of what appeared to be bruising around her right eye as evidence of the alleged abuse. Depp, of course, is an international celebrity who is much loved by his fans — and many of them had a lot to say about Heard's claims. Unfortunately, many of them accused her of lying about her domestic violence claims in order to extort money out of her soon-to-be ex-husband.
The thing is, I get where they're coming from. I spent years fangirling over Johnny Depp when the Pirates of the Caribbean movies came out, and there's no denying that he's an exceptional actor. He has not been tried for domestic violence, and at this point, Heard's claims are allegations that have not been proven one way or another. (Laura Wasser, Depp's attorney, did not immediately respond to Romper's request for comment.) The news of Heard filling a restraining order was surprising, to say the least, and it's not something fans would ever want to hear. However, calling Heard a liar in the face of these allegations is the wrong response, regardless of how much a person looks up to Depp — yet that's what many fans are doing:
The thing is, whether you decide to hold off on judgment of Depp for now, taking to social media to air your concerns about the veracity of Heard's claims is doing far more damage than one might expect — and not just to Heard. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, only about half of all domestic violence incidents are reported to authorities, and many women only go to police when the violence becomes a matter of life or death.
The problem with accusing people who report alleged abuse (be it physical or sexual) of lying is that it further entrenches societal norms that make it harder for survivors to report abuse. Reporting abuse already takes a tremendous amount of courage without adding on a fear of not being believed. Survivors of abuse often don't come forward precisely because of that: they're afraid that they won't be believed.
In a society that often assumes ulterior motives to reports of abuse — "She's a gold digger," "She's just looking for attention," "She provoked it" — the fear of being called a liar isn't without basis, and by publicly branding Heard a liar, people are reinforcing survivors' fears: You won't be believed. You don't have enough proof.
Yes, there have been false reports of abuse before, and ignoring that would be naive. However, the statistics prove that false reports are kind of like airplane accidents: feared and discussed far more often than they ever occur. (A British MP and director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, analyzed cases of domestic violence over 17 months and found only six cases of false allegations in 111,891 cases.)
I understand not wanting the news to be true. I understand holding off on judgment before further news comes to light, or wanting to hear Depp's side of the story. However, as this very public piece of news unfolds, it would be wise for people to remember that their words carry much deeper repercussions beyond this case alone. Calling Heard a liar says to survivors who might be contemplating reporting their abuse: "We might not believe you, either."