Amber Heard defamation verdict could complicate #MeToo movement

Story at a glance


  • On Wednesday, a jury found actor Amber Heard liable for defaming her ex-husband, actor Johnny Depp. 

  • The trial revolved around a 2018 op-ed in which Heard alleged she suffered domestic abuse while married to Depp.  

  • Experts argue the trial has manipulated the movement of women coming forward with their experiences of domestic and sexual abuse. 

After a tumultuous six-week trial, actor Amber Heard was found liable for defaming her ex-husband, fellow actor Johnny Depp, after she published an op-ed that implied she was a victim of domestic abuse while married to him. 

The verdict is set to further complicate the #MeToo movement, started back in 2017 and inspired women to come forward with their experiences of sexual assault and pursue legal action. 

Heard penned an op-ed in 2018 that implied she suffered domestic abuse during her short-lived marriage to the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star, published in The Washington Post. Depp filed suit, alleging the piece was defamatory and sought $50 million from Heard. The duo were married between 2015 and 2017. 

Heard then moved to countersue Depp for $100 million, alleging Depp had in turn damaged her reputation by calling her a liar following her sexual violence allegations. 

The op-ed at the center of the trial, entitled “Amber Heard: I spoke up against sexual violence—and faced our culture’s wrath,” discussed the actor’s exposure to abuse from a young age, also writing, “two years ago, I became the public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”  


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Though the op-ed never mentioned Depp’s name, the actor’s legal team argued the piece ruined his reputation and that instead Depp was the victim of Heard’s physical and mental abuse. 

Depp denied ever physically assaulting Heard, but the actress claimed in court that she masked bruises on her face with makeup. 

The trial was being closely followed by users on TikTok, creating viral hashtags– with #justiceforjohnnydepp garnering 18 billion views, according to BBC

Days before the verdict was reached, #MeToo released a statement on the Heard v. Depp trial and argued the widespread attention of the legal conflict had caused #MeToo to be, “co-opted and manipulated.” 

“What we experienced in the Depp-Heard trial was a public retelling of intimate partner violence between two privileged white celebrities. And the accounts are as equally harrowing as the public humiliation and harassment thwarted against Heard.” 

That’s in part reference to the negative social media attention Heard has been receiving since the beginning of her trial, with hashtags like #amberheardistrash, #amberheardcancelled and #amberheardsucks among others showing up on TikTok. 

“It is a case study for how social and political movements get misused and weaponized against the very people it’s meant to serve,” said #MeToo. 

Heard released a statement shortly after Wednesday’s verdict was read, writing in part, “I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated.” 

“It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously” 

Other experts also weighed in, including Nicole Bedera, a sociologist with expertise in sexual violence at the University of Michigan. She argued Wednesday’s verdict was not a surprise, but it also does not signal the death of the #MeToo movement. 

In a tweet, Bedera wrote, “It’s a reminder of why we need #MeToo in the first place. For feminists, this should be a radicalizing moment, inspiring us to push for structural changes to the systems stacked against us.” 

United Nations Women, an entity dedicated to gender equality of women worldwide, estimates that globally about 736 million women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence or both at least once in their life. 

However, less than 40 percent of women who experience violence seek help of any sort.  


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