By Nazeefa Ahmed, June 24 2022—
On June 1, the jury in the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial unanimously ruled in favor of Depp for three counts of defamation by Heard. Depp was awarded $15 million, while Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages. Depp sued Heard for $50 million in 2019 after an op-ed she wrote, titled Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change. She had not mentioned Depp by name, but discussed her experience with domestic abuse, implying that Depp was the perpetrator. As a result, Depp was blacklisted from Hollywood, and discontinued from his iconic role in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Because the trial was so accessible to the public, it came to represent and comment on greater societal tropes and patterns. The trial was also the first time a very public domestic abuse case went in favor of the man. It has become very evident that oppressors on both sides of the case are using the verdict to their own benefit, to promote their radical and unfounded ideas.
Rather than understanding that any person is capable of abuse, many Depp fanatics demonize Heard, and idolize Depp as a perfect husband who had done no wrong — the crazy lady trope is commonly used to diminish women who have endured domestic abuse.
On the other side, radical feminists on twitter are denying the clear evidence of abuse towards Depp, saying that those who support Depp “hate women”. People who claim these things are a part of the problem of domestic abuse and not the solution.
Through the trial, Depp’s legal team rose to fame. Consisting of Benjamin Chew, Camille Vasquez and Andrew Crawford — Vasquez, in particular, was famed online and by the media for her cross examination of Heard. Posts about Vasquez “destroying” Heard circulated the internet and the former was praised for her precise questioning and methodical destruction of Heard’s claims, finally giving Heard “what she deserved”.
However, Heard’s lawyers have recently criticized Depp’s team for using victim-blaming rhetoric during the trial. Heard’s legal team released a statement stating how their actions affected women in court.
“It is as unseemingly as it is unprofessional that Johnny Depp’s legal team has chosen to do a victory lap for setting back decades of how women can be treated in the courtroom,” said Heard’s team in the statement.
When the person being cross examined is not cooperating, the lawyer performing the cross examination needs to ask tough questions to get the truth. She also described the general strategy of the legal team.
“I think that something that we focused on during the cross examination was using her words against her,” said Vasquez in the statement. “Every question she was asked was tied to something she had said previously.”
Therefore, the legal team based their cross examination off of Heard’s claims — not blaming her for perpetrating a crime. Their approach revealed Heard’s baseless allegations without having to resort to disingenuous tactics.
During a pivotal moment in the trial, Heard was unable to clearly answer whether or not she donated the proceeds of their initial divorce settlement to charity. Heard refused to answer Vasquez’s question, claiming to have pledged the money. Heard would not say directly that she did not donate the money until Vasquez had to remind her to answer clearly.
Heard has also been caught lying on the stand, altering stories to fit her narrative, and sticking to her story even if evidence exists of falsity. Heard’s attitude on the stand was manipulative to say the least. When confronted with alleged photos of her abused face — one that was in the exact same position as the original photo but with increased saturation — she vehemently denied editing it. When shown photos of her unbruised face at a premiere the day after Depp allegedly beat her, she said that makeup would cover it up.
Criticism still exists that Depp’s win is a loss for women victims of domestic abuse. Vasquez responded to this statement in an interview with Good Morning America, saying that cases should be treated individually.
“We are only speaking about what happened in this case,” she said. “The facts in this case were overwhelmingly positive for Johnny and the verdict speaks for itself. We encourage any victim to come forward. Domestic violence doesn’t have a gender.”
But the Depp-Heard trial can’t be treated individually. Their personal life has entered into homes across nations, sparked debates and conversations about domestic abuse, oppressors, the oppressed and everything in between. It stands as an affirmation that yes, men can be victims too. It has grown bigger than Depp and Amber alone.
Vasquez’s cross examination of Heard shows that women who speak out due to past abuse will be tried fairly in court, through presenting proper evidence and debunking false claims. The objective manner in which the iconic cross examination was portrayed should make women who are victims of abuse secure that a lying abuser will be unable to maintain their false narratives on the stand, regardless of their gender.
It is easy to get emotionally attached to one side in these trials and see the other side as the villain. But the legal teams on both sides were doing what they were hired to do: to represent their client’s best interest in court, and doing so in a law abiding manner. They are not responsible for the vicious witch hunt of Heard and the glorification of Depp. There are abusive men and there are abusive women. As observers, we need to remember that by simplifying the complexity of domestic abuse to hero and villain, no real change can occur.
Therefore, I believe it was not the verdict, nor the language of the lawyers that was devastating for women victims, but rather Heard’s false accusations. There are real women who have been abused by powerful men, and Heard’s antics mocked their suffering. Instead of using her celebrity platform to enact meaningful change, she trampled over another man’s innocence to stand on a pedestal. Vasquez did have to ask some tough questions, sometimes harshly in her wording, but the rhetoric was geared towards exposing the truth.
This article is a part of our Voices section.