- Ronald Ávila-Claudio – @ronaldavilapr
- BBC News World
The defamation lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is not only debated in the United States courts, but also in the “court of public opinion”.
The images of both actors travel through social networks like wildfire. Hundreds of thousands of people connect to audiences that are broadcast on YouTube or television channels.
The trial, which takes place in the state of Virginia, began on April 11, after Depp sued the actress for an alleged false accusation of domestic abuse.
Over three weeks, a series of witnesses – including both interpreters – have revealed intimate details of the ex-partner’s relationship. The jury, the judge and the netizens have listened Different stories from the stand about fights, insults and jealousy.
Heard stated, among other things, that her ex-husband, whom she married in 2015, sexually abused her. While the protagonist of “Pirates of the Caribbean” insisted that he never committed such acts and that, on the contrary, she was the victimizer.
Some voices suggest that public opinion is sideways of the actor and that is demonstrated by the comments and millions of hashtags in your favor on social platforms. Others warn that the case can have an impact on victims of domestic violence.
Court hearings are in recess and start again on May 16.
BBC Mundo spoke about these issues with the teacher Carrie N Bakerwho teaches at Smith College and has a Ph.D. in Women’s Studies from Emory University.
Baker is also a lawyer specializing in sexual harassment.
How do you describe the legal process between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp?
It’s a libel lawsuit. It is common for a person accused of abuse to file these types of lawsuits. But unlike other places, like some places in Europe, in the US we have strong protections for free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
It is very difficult to win a libel suit, particularly if you are a public figure like Johnny Depp. However, the public has reacted very positively towards him. Still, I would be very surprised if he ended up winning the case.
Why present the case if it is so difficult to winit?
It is often an attempt to gain a public hearing and try to challenge the accusations and clear his name. Many times, the people who are accused of abuse have more resources than the other party. And sometimes they hope to settle before the case is over.
This is often the case in the US, defamation cases are so difficult to win that they end up being resolved sooner.
You claim that he is using the US justice system to clear his name…
Yes. This is an opportunity to elaborate your arguments. In the court of public opinion, Johnny Depp has been very successful at projecting himself as the victim.
We will see what happens in the end, but it is very difficult for women to have control in these cases.
Even if he doesn’t win the lawsuit, people will only remember what happened during the trial. And he appears as if he was the victim.
Could you explain the concept of the “court of public opinion”?
It is what people perceive of a judicial hearing and how the participants of the legal process are presented in the media.
The [Johnny Depp] he’s a public figure and has obviously had a lot of behavioral problems. She tries to rehabilitate his reputation.
The possibility for him and his lawyers to argue in court that she is the one who has done harm allows them to reconfigure the perception of her image.
Heard is seen as mentally unbalanced and less believable. All of this is built on stereotypes about women as more emotional and exaggerated people. Those narratives about male and female behavior play in their favor [del actor].
I think there may be bias towards men in the system.
But there are people who claim that both actors were violent. Do you think that there is a case of two-way violence here?
Certainly, women can commit violence towards men. But the statistics of violence of men against women are higher. And when men do commit domestic violence, they tend to do it more seriously. They are often more likely to hurt their partners.
That has a lot to do with the fact that in society, male violence is more accepted.
In addition, when women behave violently, the proportion of physical abuse tends to be lower, it tends to be another type of abuse, such as psychological.
And yes, this could help Amber Heard, because people are more inclined to see more women as victims of domestic violence.
How could this highly publicized case influence people who have been victims of domestic violence?
I think that when some women see how other women are treated once they come forward and talk about the abuse, it can kind of discourage them from talking. They don’t want to be treated like Amber Heard has been treated.
But I think they can also be identified. There are historical examples, such as when Anita Hill accused[al hoy juez de la Corte Suprema de EE.UU.] Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. In hearings to confirm the judge before the Judicial Committee [del Senado de EE.UU.] they treated her poorly.
But after those public hearings, many women began to report cases of sexual harassment and assault. The number of complaints increased. It was all because the women identified with Anita Hill.
They can feel validated because they see that they are not alone.
How does an abusive relationship change when one of the parties is a famous or powerful person?
They could have more power and resources to hire lawyers. This is why many powerful men use the courts as a tactic of abuse. They want to silence the people who expose them. They file lawsuits to intimidate.
I emphasize that it is a common technique.
People tend to believe powerful men, especially someone with the popularity of Johnny Depp. We’ve all seen it in movies. Everyone loves him in “Pirates of the Caribbean.”
He is one of the most popular actors in the world and I think that may be a factor in how he is perceived and the level of sympathy people have towards him.
Lawyers have asked Amber Heard why she didn’t end the relationship after being abused. She has replied that she loved Johnny Depp. What about an abuse victim who may have difficulty leaving her partner despite the situation?
It is very difficult for a person who has been abused to leave a relationship. Sometimes leaving the relationship can be dangerous. It can upset the abuser. Many women are also financially dependent on their abusers. I don’t think this is the case though.
Other times there are children in the relationship and they are worried about protecting them and feel that if they stay it is better for them.
There is also another thing called the cycle of abuse. It happens when a person abuses someone, but then apologizes and promises not to do it again. Begins a series of behaviors to keep the abused person close. But then the abuse starts again and can even escalate.
Sometimes it happens in couples who have a long relationship and love each other. So it can be very difficult for a woman to extract herself from that violent relationship.
I have read that during the trial no expert on domestic violence has testified. how could this change the opinion of the jury?
There are experts who could testify to what is often called the battered woman syndrome. This to educate the jury on why women can stay in an abusive relationship despite the mistreatment.
Many people do not understand that they are being abused.
This could also influence public perception…
Yes. But what is happening in court is one thing and what is happening on social networks and in the media is another.
In court there are strict restrictions on what evidence can be presented in front of the jury. But in the court of public opinion there are no restrictions.
Amber has said that there are eyewitnesses to some violent acts perpetrated by Johnny. Could she present those witnesses in court?
Sure, absolutely. But she doesn’t have the burden to prove anything. He sued her for defamation and she has the burden of proving it.
What could be a possible outcome of this case?
It is difficult to answer. But, as I said, it is difficult to win a libel suit in US courts. Especially as a public figure.
If you are a private citizen, and you file a defamation lawsuit, it is easier to win. In essence this is because if you become a public figure, you are opening the door to criticism from the public. But public figures have won libel cases.
It usually has to be a very strong case and this one doesn’t seem to be. But the jury at the end of the day is the one that sees all the evidence and makes credibility determinations.
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