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Johnny Depp v Amber Heard: how society's mistrust of women plays out in family courts

When we first reported on Amber Heard’s split from Johnny Depp in May, it was very similar to a great number of celebrity divorces. By the time they reached a settlement last week, things were very different. The split has been called one of the most public divorces in recent times, and details of Depp’s alleged abuse of Heard ‘infamous’. However, it has also been said to have split Hollywood, with many celebrities as well as members of the public coming out in support of Depp. These supported included his ex partner Vanessa Paradis, a move which many claimed proves that Depp could not possibly have abused Heard. This public dismissal of Heard’s accusations reflects a dangerous trend in society - namely that both lay people and serious publications believe that women are programmed to lie. When we always suspect women of being liars, the support they should be able to receive from the legal system starts to erode. This internalised belief helped keep historic sexual abuse hidden for so long, and when it was unearthed, meant that people didn’t believe it. It’s why until as recently as 2003, the Philadelphia sex crimes unit was referred to as the “lying bitches unit”. And when we have an MP, someone who is in part responsible for the creation of new laws, saying that women use their children as a stick to beat the father with, you have to wonder if this culture of mistrust of women isn’t influencing important legal and governmental decisions. This is not a call to take everything a woman ever says at face value, but when someone comes forward alleging domestic abuse the public response should be to call for a thorough investigation rather than outright dismissal. In a society where women’s voices aren’t automatically assumed to be false, we’ll have a justice system better able to promote real justice.

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