Opinion | Why Johnny Depp’s courtroom victory is a Pyrrhic one

 

The texts began blowing up my cellphone Wednesday whereas I used to be ready for my son’s faculty bus. As a divorce coach and advocate for abuse victims, I do know a lot of ladies who have been rocked by the jury siding with Johnny Depp in his defamation swimsuit in opposition to ex-wife Amber Heard.

“The award for Best Actor in a Defamation Lawsuit goes to Johnny Depp for fooling the jury, decide, media and the courtroom of public opinion,” a girl in divorce proceedings with a high-conflict companion instructed me. She, like many different purchasers, was outraged that Depp obtained a $15 million verdict as a result of Heard wrote in a 2018 op-ed in The Washington Post that she was a “public determine representing home abuse” and “had the uncommon vantage level of seeing, in actual time, how establishments defend males accused of abuse.” (Though she by no means named Depp, she was extensively perceived as referring to him; he has denied all allegations of abuse.)

As actions to reform our household courtroom system develop louder, this movie star trial introduced the pervasive energy dynamic often behind closed doorways proper into our dwelling rooms.

I used to be additionally shocked by the end result — however I don’t see the decision as an absolute win akin to one of Depp’s triumphant scenes from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” And that’s not simply because Heard, too, obtained a judgment in her favor as a part of her countersuit: $2 million for Depp’s lawyer’s assertion that the actress had organized an ambush for the police to entice Depp.

The greater injury to Depp is that he can by no means salvage his fame. He claimed his picture was destroyed by Heard’s op-ed, however the actual destruction truly got here by way of the revelations made on the trial. Despite the male star’s fan base, many individuals won’t ever take a look at his beloved character Captain Jack the identical means once more — if he’ll ever be allowed to reprise the role.

“Even if you win, you lose,” Domenic Romano, a prime enterprise and leisure legal professional in New York City instructed me. “This could also be a authorized victory, but it surely’s not likely a reputational victory, and positively not a ethical victory for Johnny Depp or society at giant.”

Romano did credit score Depp’s group with persuading the jury that he was extra plausible than Heard — sufficient to succeed in the upper authorized normal of defamation (“precise malice”) that’s utilized to public figures.

But it got here at a excessive worth. “I assumed this complete factor was a horrible thought for him. I imply how do you look good?” Romano requested, citing the soiled laundry aired in London, the place Depp misplaced a 2020 libel case against The Sun newspaper for calling him a “spouse beater.” Then, Romano mentioned, Depp proceeded to “carry it again to shore” with this lawsuit in a Virginia courtroom.

Among that laundry was the picture of Depp writing profane messages on the wall in his personal blood, his texts saying he hoped Heard’s “rotting corpse is decomposing in the f—ing trunk of a Honda Civic” and his drug use.

Heard didn’t come off as an angel, after all, since she admitted hitting Depp and never donating all of her divorce settlement to charity as promised. But the social media frenzy surrounding her stumbles took on a lifetime of its personal — full with TikTok movies mocking Heard with “turd” emojis and championing Depp like he was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The incontrovertible fact that so many Americans discovered pleasure in individuals’s home ache retraumatized victims. Many abuse survivors at the moment are frightened that Depp’s courtroom victory appears to undermine the #MeToo motion by scaring them again into a cave of silence.

“Survivors of home violence have been set again a long time,” mentioned Tina Swithin, who based One Mom’s Battle after a authorized warfare together with her ex. “The message that was despatched loud and clear is that in case you are a sufferer of abuse, you should stay silent about what you’ve endured or you’ll be subjected to the wrath of public opinion, and you could be additional abused as perpetrators will now weaponize the judicial system.”

But I feel it would mobilize ladies like by no means earlier than. As actions to reform our household courtroom system develop louder, this movie star trial introduced the pervasive energy dynamic often behind closed doorways proper into our dwelling rooms. People throughout America noticed what these of us who’ve survived the household courtroom system face on daily basis: energy within the arms of males, cash shopping for bigger legal teams, charming narcissism and choice makers who don’t see via a manipulator’s five-star efficiency. We can not let one battle resolve the warfare.

“In the bigger scheme, I don’t assume it will set again the MeToo motion,” Romano agreed. He famous that the majority defamation circumstances don’t contain individuals already within the highlight, and accusers will assume twice about damaging their fame the way in which Depp did. “People will see it’s not a nice thought to litigate a private relationship. Victims will proceed to be rightfully emboldened to return ahead.”

Romano calls it a traditional “Pyrrhic victory” — a win that inflicts such a catastrophic toll that it’s kind of a defeat. If you haven’t learn your Greek mythology not too long ago, it comes from the story of  Pyrrhus of Epirus who engaged in ruinous, pricey battles with the Romans. Essentially, victory at any price ultimately means defeat.

Don’t get me improper — most victims of emotional and bodily abuse don’t really feel impressed proper now. And many, like me, are livid.

But we now have two selections: Either retreat out of concern, or use this case as a chance to teach others. More home violence legal guidelines — like my state of Connecticut’s groundbreaking Jennifers’ Law that took impact final October — are increasing to make emotional abuse like “coercive management” a consideration in issuing restraining orders and making judgments in household courtroom circumstances. The downside is that, as issues stand, many attorneys, judges and common Americans sitting on juries don’t acknowledge it after they see it. This case could possibly be what lastly brings understanding about this dynamic.

Coercive control is a type of psychological hurt that may embody manipulation, monetary abuse, authorized abuse and utilizing youngsters as pawns. If you don’t acknowledge this insidious recreation, sure, Heard might look loopy and terrible in her reactions. She will not be our favourite sufferer, however the query is: Why does she must be?

Heard has vowed to enchantment, although Romano mentioned there must be vital new proof or testimony, or an error within the trial, for her to succeed.

Meanwhile, the remainder of us will get busy. We must keep in mind that each single hard-fought motion in our nation was not a straight line — extra like a rollercoaster. Strap in.


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