The severed fingertip, the feces on the bed, the profanity-laced arguments—these were some of the key moments of explosive testimony that the 3.5 million viewers on various social media platforms heard worldwide during the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial. The celebrity case quickly attracted millions and grew to one of the highest trending topics on the internet. Although the defamation case was centered around allegations of domestic violence by both parties, very little about the complex dynamics surrounding domestic violence was introduced for the jury and the public to consider.
“It could begin with a slap, it could begin with a shove, it could begin with throwing a TV remote at my head, throwing a glass of wine in my face,” Depp said. Heard detailed more than a dozen alleged assaults during their relationship, including physical and sexual abuse.
But while we universally witnessed the details of this celebrity trial, posting and tweeting our own opinions and personal stories, victims and survivors also watched and absorbed this collective response to domestic violence. Many reactions included choosing “Team Johnny” or “Team Amber,” dehumanizing the experience of abuse, and even determining the “believability” of the abuse of the victim based on their communication style or emotional response on the stand.
The truth is—none of us know the full story, and we never will. But amidst the noise of social media and news media coverage, is the fact that identifying abuse is the first step in stopping it.
To understand relationship abuse, it is fundamental to recognize that it is more than physical violence—it is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship. This can happen to people of any gender, race, age, sexuality, religion, education level or economic status or even fame. Common signs of this abusive behavior in a partner can include:
- Telling you that you never do anything right
- Showing extreme jealousy of friends or family
- Preventing one from spending time with family or peers
- Insulting or shaming in front of others
- Preventing from making decisions about work or school
- Controlling finances
- Pressuring for sex, drugs, alcohol
- Intimidation tactics using threats to your belongings, your friends, family, or your home
In the case of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, we heard that many of these incidences allegedly happened to each of them during their turbulent relationship—with the jury ultimately ruling in favor of Depp on all claims of defamation for Heard’s article in The Washington Post.
But when it comes to domestic abuse, the solution does not lie with “teams” or believability. It lies with each one of us, how we display and support healthy relationships and how we respond to the stories we hear.
Since leaving an abusive relationship is a highly personal decision—and often complex—survivors of domestic abuse benefit from having trusted individuals stick close to them on their path to safety. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, there is help, please contact our 24-hour hotline (877) 854-3594.