The decision handed down in Johnny Depp’s defamation case against Amber Heard did not surprise Ruth Glenn, president and CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. But it did disappoint.
On Wednesday, a jury at the Fairfax County Circuit Court found Heard liable for defaming Depp. Heard, meanwhile, prevailed in one out of three counterclaims. Depp was awarded $15 million in damages and will receive $10.35 million due to state caps on punitive damages. Heard will receive $2 million.
“It’s all very goofy,” Glenn said. “They both won; he just won more money. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Depp has denied abusing Heard and claimed, instead, that his ex-wife was the abuser. In 2020, the London high court ruled against him in a libel suit against The Sun for an article that called him a “wife-beater.” Depp also lost his request to appeal the decision.
As “goofy” as the outcome of the Virginia case might be, Glenn knows better than anyone that none of this is funny. She’s expressed concerns in previous interviews about the chilling effect this trial could have on domestic violence survivors, and this decision was not exactly encouraging.
“I would ask the nation and your readers, would you think twice about coming forward after witnessing what’s happened?” Glenn said. “I don’t think that it will necessarily be the only thing that stops someone from seeking support and safety, but I can tell you it just adds another layer.”
Unfortunately, Glenn suspected a verdict like this was coming. She cites two reasons for the premonition: the presumably grand scale of Depp’s PR machine and a lack of discussion during the case about abuse dynamics.
For instance: a narrative established early on in the case concerned the concept of “mutual abuse”—a term that Glenn pointed out can obscure the real power dynamics at hand.
Each victim develops their own defense mechanisms during abusive situations, Glenn said, and it’s not uncommon for victims to respond to physical or verbal violence with retaliation of their own. The logic goes: “If I respond this way, it might end it sooner.”
“You have to understand who’s really pulling the strings,” Glenn said. “Who’s exerting the power; who’s exerting the control. Every victim does not look the same, and they don’t respond the same.”
While the circumstances of the trial feel somewhat disconnected from the average person’s life—a worldwide celebrity plaintiff, an overactive stan army, the presence of Elon Musk—the actual dynamics at play, Glenn said, are not that unique. They reflect the experiences of hundreds of women and men facing the same kinds of treatment that Heard alleges, whose cases are not made available for public scrutiny.
“It’s happening every day, all the time,” she said. “As we speak, somebody is enduring abuse from someone who says they love them.”
The biggest difference between the Depp-Heard case and others is the scale, both of the damages and of the media scrutiny. The NCADV did not establish a position on the case until Wednesday, but Glenn said its leadership has nonetheless faced attacks online; she’s received multiple direct messages on her personal social media accounts from fans who believe the organization took Heard’s “side,” although she maintains that’s never been the case.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Glenn said of the furor.
More than anything, Glenn wishes that at some point during this case, abuse dynamics had been discussed in depth. Whenever domestic violence comes up in the public discourse like this, she said, it’s imperative that local or national experts be involved in the conversation.
“I hope that when the dust settles from this that we don’t let what we’ve learned go away,” Glenn said. “We should recognize when power and control is being exerted—and we should have a deeper conversation as a nation about the dynamics of domestic violence and how that may or may not have played out in this trial.”
A representative for the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN) provided the following statement: “The outcome of this case may surface an array of emotions for survivors watching. Anyone needing support in the wake of this verdict can access free confidential support 24/7 at 800.656.HOPE (4673) and online.RAINN.org.”
Women in Film, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the advancement of women in screen careers, shared contact information for a hotline of its own.
“We are deeply concerned the Depp-Heard decision will set precedent exacerbating barriers victims face in coming forward,” the organization said in a statement. “The trial and its reception demonstrated a regressive trend of retaliation against those who speak out about violence or abuse perpetrated by those in power.”