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Johnny Depp, Amber Heard & The Myth Of The Perfect Victim

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Johnny Depp, Amber Heard

When Amber Heard first accused Johnny Depp of abuse after the couple had been married for 15 months, people expressed their sympathies for Heard. 

She had arrived to court with a bruised face after filing for divorce from Depp on May 23, 2016. She claimed that Depp had thrown an iPhone at her face, which caused the injury. 

Since then, Heard and Depp's highly publicized divorce has become a divisive issue among everyone from fans to domestic abuse experts.

Through the Heard/Depp debacle, we've seen debates on the impacts of cancel culture, what abuse looks like and the struggle domestic violence victims — both men and women — face in getting people to believe them.

But central to all of these debates in the issue is the battle on who in the relationship was the victim.

However, the inherent problem with the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard discourse is that we've attached ourselves to the myth that a perfect victim exists.

This isn't a think piece on why Amber Heard has been the catalyst of abuse in her relationship with Depp, nor is it going to be a stance on who is right or wrong in the defamation trial currently underway between the former couple.

RELATED: Why Fans Think Amber Heard Is Taunting Johnny Depp By Copying His Court Room Outfits

In 2018, Heard wrote her op-ed for The Washington Post about her own experience with domestic violence, before reflecting on the power of patriarchal values and how many institutions uphold men who have been accused of abuse.

Now that essay is currently the center point of the $50 million defamation lawsuit Depp filed against his ex-wife, and even though Heard never mentioned Depp's name in the article, it was implied that she was talking about the actor.

Depp's lawsuit against Heard is due to the "malicious intent" behind her article, and how it did irreparable damage to his career, along with the fact that he insists he never hit his ex-wife.

While Heard is suing Depp for counter-defamation, stating it was her career that took serious hits due to the claims he made, and standing firm in her claims that Depp did abuse her.

The entire trial has been a back-and-forth effort between the two, where their lawyers have brought forth witnesses, audio recordings, texts, and recollections of moments while sitting on the stand – all in an effort to become the "perfect victim."

In the beginning, when Heard first accused Depp of abuse, she had pages upon pages of documents detailing the abuse she suffered from her husband. There were audio recordings of moments between Heard and Depp that corroborated her claims.

During the trial, more evidence came to the surface that suggested Heard was the one who routinely hit Depp, and the one who'd been emotionally and verbally abusive towards him at different points in their marriage.

For onlookers, the Depp and Heard case has only fueled a further look into the myth of the "perfect victim" and the "typical abuser."

The "perfect" or "ideal victim narrative is a widespread phenomenon that is used in the media constantly. Whether someone is a victim of abuse, sexual assault, or murder, the idea is that person who had been victimized was kind, loving, and sweet.

"They wouldn't hurt a fly," is the phrase heard over and over again, because something bad happened to someone good. 

RELATED: 7 Abusive Things Amber Heard Is Accused Of Doing To Johnny Depp

That "someone good" couldn't ever be Johnny Depp. He doesn't fit the mold of a "perfect victim." He suffered from an opioid addiction, he's a man, his physical stature is much bigger than Heard, and so on and so forth. These are the arguments that shove Depp, unwillingly, into the role of an abuser.

As relationship coaches, Orna and Matthew Walters tell us, "The “perfect victim” stereotype doesn’t consider the complexities of human beings and what drives behavior in romantic relationships."

"The media loves the idea of a perfect victim narrative because the stereotype of the tattooed, Hollywood bad boy is the ideal perpetrator," they continue.

"The notion that a successful, attractive, male sex symbol could be the victim of emotional and physical abuse doesn’t fit that narrative."

In turn, Heard hasn't exactly been the perfect picture of a doting housewife. Throughout her career, she has been framed as a kind of bad-ss sex symbol. In court, she has been stone-faced and unemotional.

For those who misunderstand how abuse happens, she doesn't seem like someone who would stay with an abuser or tolerate violence against her.

People are obsessed with finding the "perfect victim," but no one is perfect. Humans are messy, they do terrible things sometimes, but it doesn't mean people like that deserve to be branded as a perpetrator just because they don't fit some kind of mold.

The "perfect victim" myth hurts under-recognized survivor groups.

This stigma surrounding the conversation that Depp couldn't have been the recipient of abuse is just another thing that prevents male survivors of abuse from coming forward with their stories because they think no one will believe them as being the victims.

Believing survivors doesn't mean we have to alienate and invalidate Depp or Heard. It just means that we need to create enough space for them both, to be able to listen to them, to critique them, to understand that they are both messy, but they don't deserve to suffer.

Cases of abuse don't always fall into some kind of rigid, binary scale. There is sometimes not just one single victim, and one single abuser, but rather instances where the two can be interchangeable.

There are two sides to every story, and there are probably instances and moments that we won't ever know the truth about regarding Depp and Heard's tumultuous marriage. 

But one thing will always be true: these issues are extremely complex but it shouldn't take away from the fact that we need to stop scrutinizing the belief of an "ideal victim" because such a thing just doesn't exist.

RELATED: Amber Heard Arrested For Hitting Girlfriend & Accused Of Abusing Other Partners According To Johnny Depp’s Lawsuit

Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.

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