Over the weekend, Amber Heard partnered with the GirlGaze Project to release a powerful PSA about domestic violence. But it was the internet's overwhelmingly negative response to the video that sent the strongest message of all — that victim shaming is still a problem.
The video shows Heard, who first accused ex-husband Johnny Depp of domestic violence in May, discussing the process of recognizing that you're being abused, as well as shedding light on the emotional fallout that many victims experience.
"There is a lot of shame attached to that label of victim," Heard explained in the PSA. "It happens to so many women. When it happens and you're home behind closed doors with someone you love, it's not as straightforward as if a stranger did this ... if a stranger did this, it would be a no-brainer."
Heard goes on to tell other victims that they're "not alone," and also to assert that we have to change the way we talk about violence against women in the media and in our culture. Unfortunately, though, that part of Heard's message seems to have fallen on unreceptive ears. As of Monday morning (November 28), the YouTube video had been "disliked" by more than 1,440 people. Comparatively, only slightly more than 400 people had "liked" it, and the comments reflect this bias, too.
Several commenters have accused Heard of "acting" in the video.
"Her body language says lying bitch," commented one viewer, while another called it "the worst audition video I've ever seen."
And others claimed she's being hypocritical, citing an alleged abuse incident with her ex-girlfriend, Tasya van Ree — despite the fact that van Ree effectively disproved those allegations months ago.
In 2009, Heard was arrested after she and then-girlfriend Tasya van Ree got into an argument at an airport. The "Justice League" actress was booked on misdemeanor domestic violence charges when airport security allegedly saw her grab van Ree's arm. But over the summer, van Ree clarified that the charges were false, and claimed the security guards had acted out of "homophobic" impulses.
"In 2009, Amber was wrongfully accused for an incident that was misinterpreted and over-sensationalized by two individuals in a powerful position," van Ree wrote in a statement following Heard's allegations against Depp. "I recount hints of misogynistic attitudes toward us which ... appeared to be homophobic when they found out we were domestic partners and not just ‘friends.' Charges were quickly dropped and she was released moments later. It's disheartening that Amber's integrity and story are being questioned yet again."
The fact that people continue to cite this incident as a reason why Heard shouldn't be believed, despite van Ree's words, speaks to society's willingness to discredit victims. And it needs to stop.
The way people are clamoring to dispute Heard's authenticity speaks to a sad reason why many victims of domestic violence choose not to come forward.
According to statistics compiled by the Feminist Majority Foundation, 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women (though other sources suggest more men are victims than this number indicates), with those between the ages of 16 and 24 comprising the most vulnerable group. But despite the fact that 1 in 4 women will be the victim of intimate partner violence at some point in her lifetime, according to The National Domestic Violence Hotline, only half of these crimes are reported, and only 1 in 5 victims seek medical treatment for their injuries.
A major reason victims commonly cite for why they don't report is a sense of shame and embarrassment, as Heard testified to, as well as fear they won't be believed, including by the police. And that fear isn't without justification. According to a 2015 survey of domestic violence lawyers and advocates conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union, 88 percent of respondents said that police "sometimes or often do not believe victims or blame victims for the violence."
That societal tendency to disbelieve victims is certainly represented in the negative response to Heard's video. Out of the many, many commenters calling her a liar, only a paltry few came to her defense. And that kind of hostile attitude displayed toward an alleged domestic violence victim — especially such a high-profile one — hardly encourages other victims to step forward with their own stories and seek help.