Fair warning: This is another Johnny Depp-Amber Heard column. Don’t tell me I didn’t give you an opportunity to flip to the comics and coupons.
When we last convened on the topic of Captain Jack Sparrow and Aquaman’s paramour, the focus was all about the #MeToo movement, which makes sense since that has consumed the atmosphere and ether for the past few years. But I’m kicking myself for missing the real heart of the controversy, and it’s time to right that wrong.
Johnny Depp is a victim of domestic abuse. He is not just someone who has been defamed or simply lied about by a dissatisfied partner. The evidence that has been elicited at trial by Depp, Heard and all of their respective witnesses satisfies the civil burden, a preponderance of the same, that the woman physically and emotionally abused the man. And if it were a criminal case, I have little doubt that it would satisfy that standard too.
It’s not a popular thing to accuse a woman of abuse. We are conditioned to believe that the physically weaker sex is usually the victim, and the suggestion that she is actually the one who is causing the damage is met with derision by some, anger by others. I’ve seen it when I’ve talked about my immigrant victims of abuse. People generally nod their heads in sympathy when I talk about an illiterate woman from Honduras who was raped and beaten by her live in “pareja,” but when I mention that a young man from Guatemala was kicked in the genitals by his rabid American wife, they tend to chuckle. The men, in particular, say things along the line of “that dude is an idiot, no man let’s get himself done done by a chick.” (That is an exact quote, by the way.)
I’ve handled battered spouse cases for many years. That’s the type of immigration petition where an immigrant who has been abused by a US citizen or lawful permanent resident seeks the protection of the laws, and the ability to avoid deportation / removal. They’re very difficult cases to prepare because of the type of abuse involved, and after 27 years specializing in this field I’m still not used to it. (It’s also one of the reasons that I laugh when I hear about journalists like Taylor Lorenz at the Washington Post complaining about the online harassment that she gets. If all we had to deal with in this life was mean tweets, we should be on our knees thanking God for blessings.)
If I were to tally the number of males versus females in the cases I’ve handled, the men would win hands down. That’s a weird way of putting “abuse” percentages, but my point is that I’ve seen at least as many husbands who have been persecuted by their American citizen wives than the other way around. And I have a suspicion that this isn’t even an accurate account of the type of abuse out there, because men have a tendency not to want to be viewed as “victims” and so they keep their trauma a secret. Part of that has to do with the way that men who claim abuse are treated in a society that still demands we “believe all women.” I remember when Lorena Bobbitt sliced off her husband’s penis, she became a sort of outlaw heroine to feminists, and he was a laughing stock. You can imagine that a male victim of abuse isn’t going to be like being questioned at best, or ridiculed in the worse-case scenario.
Which brings me back around to Depp and his ex. While it’s clear that Johnny Depp is a broken creature, addicted to drugs, sex, and risky behavior, it’s also clear that he was a victim of abuse from the women in his life. His mother, by all accounts, sounds like a horrible human being who made his childhood unlivable, and while many of the women he partnered with have only good things to say, his relationship with Heard was beyond toxic. They were, and are, two narcissistic sado-masochists (sado in her case, maso in his) and it’s hard to fee any real sympathy for either.
Except when you look deeper, and see that Depp really is the victim here, and the fact that he had to sue this woman for defamation is proof positive that our society is completely off kilter. A man who was physically beaten, had his finger sliced off, was regularly screamed at, lied about, and ridiculed by the woman he obviously loved, then has to sit by and watch her turn that around and accuse him of being the beast. Beauty was out to get her pound of flesh, and society (at least initially) was on her side.
This time, though, “Beast” fought back and in the process, revealed a backstory that is shared by many male victims of abuse. It’s not always physical, and it’s not always at the level of a felony, and it may sometimes take the form of emotional manipulation, but it’s there.
One of my immigration clients didn’t have a hand laid on him by his American spouse, but she would tell him every day that she was going to report him to immigration “and get him deported.” Another said that his American wife would threaten to take the kids away from him and have him sent back to the Dominican Republic if she didn’t buy him everything that she demanded. Another was bludgeoned with a vacuum cleaner when he tried to flush her drugs down the toilet.
As someone who knows what abuse looks like, and thinks that those who engage in it should be locked up behind bars, forever (which I suppose is an impossible dream but my idea of justice), I don’t see the sex of the victims as having any particular importance. The problem is that until recently, society did. Men predators, women prey. That is slowly changing, even though the #MeToo movement set us back a few decades.
But the glimpses of Johnny Depp, opening his heart and exposing his demons, will hopefully bring us back to a place where decency, and fairness, do not depend on your gender.
Christine Flowers is an attorney. Her column appears Sunday and Thursday. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.