Abuse Victims Told That The Amber Heard Case Should Not Stop Them From Speaking Out
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Victims of abuse have been urged to keep coming forward to share their experiences despite the verdict of the Amber Heard vs Johnny Depp defamation trial.
Last week, the jury from the highly publicised court case found Amber Heard had defamed Johnny Depp in an op-ed published in the Washington Post.
The actress was initially ordered to pay Depp $15m in damages, made up of $10m in compensatory damages and $5m in punitive damages, though Judge Penney Azcarate later reduced the latter amount to $350,000 to meet Virginia's statutory limit for punitive damage awards. Heard plans to appeal the verdict.
After Johnny Depp's win, concerns loomed that the result would have a seriously negative impact on victims of domestic abuse, who could now be discouraged from coming forward.
Speaking to Rolling Stone, author and psychologist Dr Jessica Taylor said she had been contacted by 'hundreds' of abuse victims who hoped to retract their claims of abuse since the Depp vs Heard trial wrapped.
She said: "Survivors watching this will rethink everything they say out loud about what happened to them, and the potential of being sued and dragged through a court process for saying something they know is true, but they could be found guilty of defamation."
However, legal experts have insisted that the Depp vs Heard case was an 'extraordinary' one, which should not predict outcomes in 'more typical cases.'
Speaking to the Daily Mail, defamation and libel attorney Siddartha Rao from New York City's Romano Law said: "The outcome of the Johnny Depp litigation would only really impact cases involving similar facts.
"Defamation claims and standards also vary across states, making it harder to generalise the Depp verdict."
While she noted that the trial verdict could have negative 'psychological' effects on victims of abuse from speaking out, and even 'embolden' some attorneys to threaten further defamation claims in the hopes of obtaining non-disclosure agreements, she assured that victims would always be legally protected.
"Legally speaking," she said, "victims of abuse should understand that the facts of the Johnny Depp litigation were atypical, and that truth is always a viable defence to a defamation claim."
Depp accused Heard of defaming him in a 2018 op-ed in which she had described herself as a victim of abuse.
In a public statement following the verdict, Amber claimed that she was 'disappointed' with the outcome, arguing that there had been a 'mountain of evidence' to back up her claims.
She wrote at the time: "I’m heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence, and sway of my ex-husband.
"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.
"I believe Johnny’s attorneys succeeded in getting the jury to overlook the key issue of Freedom of Speech and ignore evidence that was so conclusive that we won in the UK."
She concluded: "I'm sad I lose this case. But I am sadder still that I seem to have lost a right I thought I had as an American - to speak freely and openly."
If you are experiencing domestic violence, please know that you are not alone. You can talk in confidence 24 hours a day to the national domestic violence helpline Refuge on 0808 2000 247