Abused women expected to be ‘meek and subservient’ to receive public sympathy, says QC
Amber Heard gives a speech after the trial at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London in July. Photograph: Samir Hussein/WireImage
Amber Heard’s stand against Johnny Depp’s assaults should not have deprived her of public sympathy for suffering the ordeal of domestic violence, a leading human rights lawyer has said.
Heard was subjected to death threats and misogynistic attacks on social media during the libel trial that left her feeling “down and beleaguered”, according to Helena Kennedy QC, who met Heard while the case was before the high court.
“There are still these pervasive myths about the kind of woman who deserves the protection of the law,” Lady Kennedy told the Guardian. “Battered women have to [seem] meek and subservient to have our sympathy.
“I have represented women who have put up with this but when they do resist they somehow [are deemed to] lose their right to [compassion]. There’s no doubt that Amber Heard did … resist but that does not make her certifiable.”
On Monday, the high court found the Sun newspaper was justified in describing Depp as a “wife beater” after the judge said 12 of 14 allegations she made of being attacked were proved on the balance of probabilities.
Kennedy met Heard at a dinner party in the north London home of the novelist Kathy Lette during the trial. Others present were the TV presenter Sandi Toksvig and Heard’s lawyer, Jennifer Robinson.
“[Heard] was brought by Jen in the middle of the trial when there was a small dinner taking place. Jen asked if she could bring Amber Heard along because she was feeling pretty down and beleaguered.
“She had been receiving threats all the way through the hearing and that was one of the reasons she was feeling low … This is the other thing that women have to contend with, the misogyny of online attacks.”
Kennedy said it would be very difficult to appeal against the judgment. Any decision to do so, she suggested, might at least mean that when Depp’s separate defamation case in Virginia starts next spring it could be said that the high court judgment was under appeal.
The London ruling “won’t provide a precedent”, Kennedy added, “but you can be sure that the judge knows that this decision was made.”
The Labour MP Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence, also complained at the time about the “character assassination” that Heard suffered in the media. “Abused women,” Phillips observed, “are not all one type of perfect picture of victimhood who would incite sympathy from everyone they met.”
While Heard endured anonymous death threats on social media and sometimes had a police escort, Depp enjoyed the adulation of fans who gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice at the end of each day during the trial.
Depp also received more high-profile support than Heard from fellow actors and celebrities.
Last weekend Helena Bonham Carter said: “There’s something quite old-fashioned about Johnny, with these manners – none of it makes sense. But the man’s not stupid. He wouldn’t have gone to this length if he thought he was in the wrong.” Depp is godfather to her two children with ex-husband, the film director Tim Burton.
In 2017, when allegations of abuse surfaced, the author JK Rowling issued a statement defending the casting of Johnny Depp in her film series Fantastic Beasts. Her agent, Neil Blair, was reported to have attended some of the high court case.
Depp is due to reprise his role as Gellert Grindelwald in the third Fantastic Beasts film, which co-stars Eddie Redmayne. Depp has not yet filmed his scenes for the high profile fantasy adventure, which is due to be released in November 2021.
The two previous Fantastic Beasts films together grossed more than $1.4bn at the worldwide box office, making Depp’s removal from the current production a substantial commercial risk.