Depp v Heard – Male sufferers of Domestic AbusePepperells
Depp v Heard: “I, Johnny Depp, a man, I too am a victim of domestic abuse”
In what has perhaps been one of the most high-profile defamation cases to ever grace our social media feeds, Johnny Depp (perhaps best known for his work as the rum-fueled Pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow) brought a lawsuit worth $50 million to ex-wife, Amber Heard (well-noted for her work in Aquaman and as a Human Rights Activist) over an article she allegedly wrote for the Washington Post in 2018, the allegation being that Heard orchestrated an elaborate hoax in order to cripple Depp’s career; an allegation which led her to file a counter-suit worth a staggering $100 million.
Needless to say, the trial grasped the attention of viewers all over the western world.
The crux of this case, evidently, were the allegations made by both Depp and Heard of domestic abuse perpetrated upon each one by the other. Given the outcome of this trial, there is a clear aroma of dissent among the population with regards to how male victims of domestic abuse are perceived and treated in the Western world; it has shaken the pot, so to speak. I will aim to explore the wider issue which is sparks controversy in cases of domestic abuse and how the role of the perpetrator and victim might well look; particularly, when that victim of domestic abuse is a man.
So, what is the wider issue?
A particular recording evidenced in the trial which stuck in my mind and I’d wager in the minds of my fellow men, is the recording of Heard in which she can be heard to push Depp to “tell the world” that he is a victim of domestic violence.
“Tell the world, Johnny, tell them, ‘I Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim too of domestic violence.’ See how many people believe or side with you”.
This recording of Heard speaks to a loud and uncomfortable truth; male victims of domestic abuse, who may want to come forward, are dissuaded from doing so by way of their perpetrator convincing them that their story won’t be believed. Or worse – flip the script entirely on the male victim.
This is key for many reasons, but the most poignant one being that in the UK, almost half of men (49%) who have experienced domestic abuse, fail to share their experiences and are two and a half times less likely to share their stories than female victims of domestic abuse. This is in spite of the fact that out of all domestic abuse crimes reported by the police, roughly 26% are committed against men, equating to around 155,000 men per year; and that is just those that are reported.
It therefore seems evident that, in a wider manner of speaking, Heard was proven right in her statement, especially at the UK trial 6 years ago.
According to the Office for National Statistics, in the UK, 1 in 3 victims of domestic abuse are male, which equates to roughly 757,000 men year on year experiencing domestic abuse. This isn’t to say that support is not offered to male victims of domestic abuse, however the service is only there for those who come forward and even still, in a very limited capacity. Only 4.4% of male victims of domestic abuse are being supported by local services and refuges. Out of 39 domestic abuse organisations with 238 spaces in refuge, only 58 of those spaces are dedicated to men. It is irrefutable that this highlights a clear societal disparity that men face in their experiences of abusive relationships and the constraints that prevent them from escaping them or speaking up about them.
It is not a far stretch then, to suggest that Depp, like all male victims of domestic abuse, may have found himself imprisoned in those same constraints over the past 6 years since the op-ed was written by Heard (by her own admission in under cross-examination) and as the Jury has now delivered their verdict.
Now, that’s not to suggest that men should receive preferential treatment for their experiences of domestic abuse over women, rather there should be an equality of opportunity for those men who have experienced it to seek the help they need, and that they should not feel discouraged from talking about their experiences, when visiting refuges to escape, as there is absolutely no shame in it. Thanks to this trial, it feels like a kick to that particular hornet’s nest has been delivered.
Perhaps one of the most difficult areas to navigate in terms of male victims of domestic abuse is the legal arena. A benefit afforded to many of the domestic abuse survivors who come to firms like Pepperells from refuges, is the benefit of Legal Aid. In order to qualify for Legal Aid, a refuge or a suitable professional specified in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 must provide a written letter or document to the applicant which confirms that in their reasonable and professional judgement, the individual has experienced domestic violence.
Broadly speaking, if Legal Aid funding is granted, the certificate will cover the costs of work for a victim applying for injunctive Orders such as Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders in order to protect them against their abuser, or make applications under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989 for Child Arrangements, Specific Issue and Prohibited Steps Orders, when children are involved.
I spent some time speaking to the Founder of Dads Advocates, Nathan Wilson, about his experience with male victims of domestic abuse and those who have been able to get to a refuge. He informed me that despite certain organisations advertising that they do take in male victims of domestic violence, many of the men who come to him have been turned away, leading to yet another uncomfortable truth; even if the courage is summoned to seek help with their experiences, the scepticism and stigma attached to male victims of domestic violence is enough for refuges to seemingly make efforts to avoid putting their name to their letters which the victim can provide to a firm like us to apply for Legal Aid, presumably, to avoid repercussions if that victim turned out to be no victim at all.
Because of this, rather than spending a fortune on legal fees, many men make these applications and attend Court proceedings by themselves as litigants in person. This means that these men are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to the scrutiny of Court proceedings when they otherwise should have obtained the support to which they may well be entitled. Legal Aid is a luxury that seems out of reach for them; unfortunately, until the status quo shifts, I don’t see this changing.
While this might not be explicitly related to the Depp v Heard trial, it plays a significant role in the wider issue at hand; when it comes to domestic abuse, men are underrepresented in society at an astonishingly low level.
Thankfully, organisations such as Dads Advocates and the ManKind Initiative are on the up and come to support men who have found themselves in abusive relationships and are struggling with escaping them. They provide advice and even courses on how to deal with their circumstances from people, like Nathan, who have experienced it first-hand.
While there is support out there for men, more awareness needs to be raised and more importantly, the proverbial shattering of the stereotypes that men are subject to, by commonly being painted as the abuser rather than the victim.
The Depp v Heard trial brought much-needed publicity to that idea and made strides in getting that notion out there. The verdict even more so. But as ever, there is so much more work to be done to support male victims of domestic violence, so their experiences are not nullified and taken as seriously as female victims’.
And to those who call this result a set-back for women, I implore you to try and look at it this way; Feminism is about equality, not superiority or dominance of one sex over another. If anything, this trial has helped to bring a lens to the issue of male victims of domestic abuse and quell the idea that this was a failure of the MeToo movement. Depp stands to be an icon for that, while in my view, it should be considered Heard’s break in the clouds.
Family Trainee in Lincoln
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