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“This man they trust – I saw him beat his wife”

Amber Heard’s claim of domestic violence against her estranged husband Johnny Depp has descended into a he said/she said media shitstorm. We don’t yet know what the truth is, says one Standard Issue writer, but let’s not vilify women who claim they’ve been abused.

carved speak no evil monkeyLast year, during a conversation about domestic abuse, I told some people I’d known for a long time about such an incident I’d witnessed. When I’d finished, one said to me: “It’s not that I don’t believe you, it’s just very hard to believe.”

We were drunk. Which probably didn’t help the construction or believability of the tale. I was also telling it to prove a point: that people with no experience of domestic violence remain largely convinced they’d be able to identify the sort of bloke (or woman) that does it. And they’re virtually never right. They don’t all have knuckles that scrape on the ground. That would be way too easy.

Probably the biggest stumbling block to believability was that I held things back. Not because it was upsetting, which – as anyone who has been the victim of or a witness to domestic violence can tell you – it very much is. But because they knew the man. They liked him.

It’s hard to tell people things they don’t want to hear. That the man they know, the one who makes them laugh and will do anything for anyone, this man they trust: I saw him beat his wife. It is hard to believe.

It didn’t turn into a scene. There’s no tension between us. We’ve never talked about it since. They believe me. They just find it very hard to believe. And I have a certain sympathy for that position.

I’ve never been told that someone I’m fond of was an abuser. I have been told by two people that they suspected their partner – also a friend – was having an affair. And both times I felt that gut reaction, “Him?”

Once I was right. Once I was very wrong. It might be human nature to want to feel you understand people, but it’s preposterous to think you can know the ins and outs of their relationships. I might as well have flipped a coin.

So then here we are, in the media mire that is Amber Heard’s claim that her estranged husband, Johnny Depp, was physically abusive to her. Those are the facts of the story. (Although, rest of the media, don’t let that stop you…)

It’s inevitable people are going to have an opinion on this claim. Some will be keen to point out that Depp is entitled to be treated – as he is under law – as innocent until proven guilty. Others find the claim very hard to believe. Some of them know him, some of them don’t.

“It’s hard to tell people things they don’t want to hear. That the man they know, the one who makes them laugh and will do anything for anyone, this man they trust: I saw him beat his wife.”

But somewhere, underneath all of that, is something way more unpleasant. A voice that’s shouting from social media and newspaper comments sections. Gold-digger. Liar. Manipulative bitch.

It’s a sentiment being given a home by incessant news coverage, which has descended into a he said/she said storm that’s more live-blog of the breakdown of a Hollywood marriage than a serious accusation of a serious assault.

I’ve seen people calling this feeding frenzy a trial by social media, but I’m not sure it’s this domestic abuse case that’s on trial. It seems to me what the jury’s out on is a woman’s right not to be vilified when she claims her husband was physically violent towards her.

Depp is innocent until proven guilty. We don’t yet know what the truth is or what will happen in the future. What we do know is there are women out there who are victims of domestic abuse. And if and when they choose to take action, even if their husband is innocent until proven guilty, they deserve to be treated with respect.

Even if they are telling stories that some people will find hard to believe. Some stories just are. It’s what makes them so hard to tell in the first place.

Read more about the effects of domestic violence on children here and here.
Read more about emotional abuse here.

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Written by Standard Issue

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