photo by Gordon Correll (creative commons)
Every time there’s another celebrity domestic violence scandal in the news and people fall all over themselves to defend the accused and smear the accuser, I feel surprised and disappointed once again at how unwilling people are to accept the pervasiveness of violence against women in our society. Even though they involve celebrities, these scandals always seem to act as a microcosm, a tiny snowglobe version of how we think and feel about relationship violence in America.
We’re seeing this again, for what feels like the umpteenth time, in the case of Amber Heard. She filed for divorce, requested and received a temporary restraining order against husband Johnny Depp, and publicly accused him of physical abuse and violence throughout their four-year relationship and 15-month marriage. Although Heard has produced photos, witnesses, and text messages that confirm her allegations, people are doing their best to think of every possible reason why she would be lying.
All the usual logical fallacies and disgusting clichés have presented themselves in this case. Depp’s supporters have argued that because none of his previous partners have accused him of violence, it’s not possible that he could have been violent in this relationship. They’ve said that Heard must be lying because she never came forward until now. They’ve claimed that because Depp is wealthier and more famous than Heard, she must be making things up to get money and attention. They’ve used the hashtag #TeamDepp to spew their vitriolic hate and misogynistic insults. They’ve called into question the veracity of the evidence that Heard has presented, claiming that her bruises are the product of makeup and the text conversations she had with Depp’s assistant are fabricated.
And—my personal favorite—Depp’s supporters have fallen back on the good old “he just seems like a nice guy” defense. This reveals just how silly and unrealistic people are about celebrities that they like, even though these celebrities are absolute strangers whom they have never met and will never meet let alone get to know well enough to make character judgments. Here’s an important fact: Johnny Depp could be a “nice guy” otherwise and still be an abusive husband. Nice people do terrible things, and sometimes they even feel guilty about them, and they still do them again.
So, this time, I am reminded yet again that it doesn’t matter how much proof a woman has when she accuses her partner of violence. It doesn’t matter if she is a rich, famous, thin, pretty, white lady. It doesn’t matter that the simplest explanation for a bruise on her face is that someone hit her, and that the most plausible story is the one she’s telling.
All that matters is that we live in a culture in which people are more willing to believe that a man has been cruelly and elaborately framed for violence than we are to believe that he’s capable of committing it. Is Heard’s story really that unbelievable? The picture she’s painted of Depp isn’t of an evil sociopath; it’s of a sad, angry man with substance abuse problems who gets jealous and loses his temper and then regrets what he did once someone tells him how he behaved. The saddest part—and maybe this is why so many people are unwilling to confront the reality of the situation—is that there are thousands of other men just like him. Domestic violence is a pervasive and widespread problem in America. The only way we’ll ever be able to have an honest conversation about it as a society and finally lay it to rest is by admitting how common—and how normalized—it really is.
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