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Hearing Amber Heard: What's Your Verdict?

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

The all too familiar narrative that paints any female who claims to be a survivor of sexual assault or domestic abuse as “lying”, is alive and well, as we have seen in the latest saga of the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial.

Is she lying? Is he lying? I do not know, but what I do know is the skepticism and vile rhetoric being directed towards Ms. Heard is driven by the belief that women lie, and are usually assumed guilty until being proved innocent.

The narrative that women lie is rooted in the opinions of two men from centuries ago. First is 17th century jurist, Mathew Hale, who wrote in his brief after acquitting a rapist that “rape is easy to accuse one of, difficult to defend.” Later in the late 1900’s, Sigmund Freud wrote that women fantasize about rape and that they do not make good witnesses because they are easily confused. I hope you heard that correctly.

These two men contributed greatly to the present day belief by many that rape and domestic abuse are a “he said, she said” situation. Accordingly, the word of a woman alone cannot be believed unless there is overriding evidence. The Depp/Heard case is one that pits the testimony of a man against the testimony of a woman. “Amber Heard is lying”. This is the narrative which fuels the assumption that she probably has ulterior motives, which brings people to conclude that she is not believable. Narrative fuels assumptions that result in conclusions, factual or otherwise. Thus, if the narrative is flawed, the rest will be as well. It is human nature to look to our beliefs to validate our assumptions. If my belief based upon the narrative is that she is lying, I will look to her behavior to reinforce my belief. This assumption is reinforced in the commentaries and now viral social media feeds that play to the idea that she is not believable. Is this based on fact or on the centuries-old narrative that is still present in our society??

Does domestic abuse have to involve physical evidence of violence? Legally, domestic violence (DV) can involve emotional and mental abuse as well as physical abuse. Many experts will say mental and emotional abuse are often worse because there is no physical evidence to back the words of the survivor. In Mr. Depp's case, yelling while smashing kitchen cabinets would be more than enough to intimidate most people. Why do many in the public not see how that is abuse? I witnessed people saying that Ms. Heard yelled and screamed at Mr. Depp and it should be looked at in the same light. Is it? I have found that the element missing when women yell and scream at men is fear – men very rarely fear physical abuse by their partner. Upset, irritated, confused, and angry are more likely to be responsive emotions, but in general, fear is not something men feel when their significant other yells at them. Yet fear is often used to describe how a woman feels when it is the man doing the yelling. It is common for a person who has perceived power, i.e., size, status, age, economics, to use their words to intimidate and mentally/emotionally violate their targets.

There are striking similarities between how Ms. Heard is viewed and how Katelyn Faber was viewed in the Kobe Bryant case. Both were vilified by the media to the point where supporters of Depp and Bryant threatened violence against the women. The public found reasons to disbelieve the woman and excuses to support the men.

Frequently women’s opinions are generated by narrative as well as something called “distancing”. What has or is happening to women such as Ms. Heard, Ms. Faber, Bill Cosby’s accusers, and countless rape survivors can be so disturbing to other women that they find reasons to make survivors behavior out to be something they would never experience themselves. A woman acknowledging Heard’s trauma and the trauma experienced by other survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence personalizes the situations to the point it would mean it could happen to them. A conclusion many try to avoid.

Was Johnny Depp a victim of character assignation and defamation? Was Amber Heard a victim of domestic abuse resulting in the Washington Post quote saying she was a “public figure representing domestic abuse”? I do not know the answer to those questions. However, my belief is that many within the media and the public could not truly hear Amber Heard over their own assumption-based voices.



Author of the book ​​No Zebras! Engaging bystanders in the Movement to End Sexual Aggression, for years, Steve Thompson has been devoting himself to studying the whys and hows of sexual aggression. He has gone into prisons to talk with offenders, has interviewed police officers, psychologists, doctors, and thousands of survivors. The information he gathered has been studied, along with aspects of body movement as they apply to fighting situations. His unique approach is a result of over 28 years of research and street experience involving hundreds of interviews with survivors and offenders. He has presented over 1,500 programs dealing with sexual assault, stalking, relationship violence, workplace violence, and harassment throughout the country. Steve is an Associate Professor as well as the Sexual Aggression Services Coordinator at Central Michigan University. He's also an assault investigation consultant and criminal profiler for police officers throughout the USA...AND a court qualified expert witness who has consulted with many agencies and the media on some of the country's most public cases.

Besides No Zebras! Engaging Bystanders in the Movement to End Sexual Aggression, he is the author of No More Fear, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., and wrote the most comprehensive behavioral analysis of familiar sexual predators titled: “Date/Acquaintance Rape – The Crime and Criminal Profile”, Campus Law


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