Miscellanea, June 14, 2022

miscellanea /mɪsəˈleɪnɪə/ n. pl. : a collection of miscellaneous objects or writings [Latin]

I haven’t done a Miscellanea post in a while but have come across some important perspectives on a couple of recent, high-profile trials that I thought needed sharing. The cases involved? Depp v. Heard and that of Canada’s Jacob Hoggard, formerly of the band Hedley.

Depp v. Heard

I didn’t pay much attention to the recent Depp v. Heard defamation trial in the US. I had a couple of reasons for tuning it out. First, I knew that Depp had lost a defamation case in the UK and I didn’t foresee a different result here. Second, as I noted to a couple of people who shared the same view, Depp was certainly guilty of abuse but it seemed Heard was abusive as well. It just seemed like another toxic celebrity relationship with blame on both sides. Oblivious to the very problematic aspects of this trial, I paid it no mind. 

It was only after the verdict–in which the jury stated Heard did indeed defame Depp–that I began paying more attention. The verdict surprised me, given its complete reversal of the UK decision. But after learning more about how this trial was conducted and the toxicity that developed around it, I realized how wrong I was to ignore it. 

By finding in Depp’s favour, the US court effectively said Heard was lying about being abused, despite ample evidence to the contrary (first cited in the UK case). Yes, she appears to have been abusive too, but that does not negate Depp’s abuse. This trial was about whether Heard defamed Depp in referring to herself as a victim of domestic abuse in a 2018 Washington Post op-ed (without naming him); in claiming Depp was defamed, the jury decided Heard was not to be believed. And it wasn’t just the verdict at issue, but the treatment of Heard in the so-called public square. For years she was subjected to online abuse and harassment at the hands of Depp’s fans and supporters who were convinced the actor could do no wrong. Yet, despite her very public mistreatment, the trial was televised and the jury not sequestered, meaning they were aware of every negative word spoken about Heard. 

As people far more thoughtful than me point out in the articles below, this trial will have a profound impact on survivors of domestic violence or abuse of any kind, making them wary of speaking up when the risk of being publicly shamed, denigrated, and accused of lying is so high. It also created a new playbook for abusers to follow–especially if they are famous–centred on DARVO and defamation. (Ironically, in this defamation trial, the person being defamed the most was Amber Heard, in the most horrible ways. A televised trial with an unsequestered jury exposed to the anti-Heard vitriol being spun out by Team Depp and his many fans: how was this deemed fair?) 

There are many articles that discuss the ramifications of the Depp v. Heard trial on abuse survivors and Heard herself, but these are a few that stood out to me.  

Depp v. Heard: A 21st century domestic violence case of terrifying precedents and teachable moments

Full disclosure: I am a volunteer with The Pixel Project and edited this article. Even though I am familiar with issues of domestic violence, this article opened my eyes to the errors in my own assumptions about the case and motivated me to learn more, moving beyond the idle gossip I heard to reading the facts about the trial. I also very much appreciated the links to articles that help dispel myths about domestic abuse in general and this case in particular. 

Depp capitalised on every online technology tool at his disposal to carry out his self-confessed mission to inflict  ‘total global humiliation’ on Heard by unleashing a public online smear campaign of massive proportions carried out via social media and powered by misogyny, sexism, and toxic celebrity fandoms as part of his strategy to crush her in the global court of public opinion. Even if he did not win the case, he would still win widespread public approval which would be the key to reviving his career that he wrecked all by himself.” The Pixel Project

Amber Heard’s legal defeat is an enormous loss for victims

Another excellent post that focuses on the impact of this trial on survivors and the DARVO strategy used by Depp. DARVO stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender. As noted in this article, the term was coined by Jennifer J. Freyd, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, University of Oregon as a way to describe the response of some abusers when accused of abuse. 

DARVO requires power imbalance and there is certainly an imbalance of power between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard on multiple levels – from finances to fame – that was mobilised in this lawsuit and particularly effective in a civil trial where the jury was not sequestered. Which means that for all the memes and videos and mocking TikToks that targeted Amber in the weeks leading up to and during the trial, the jury would have been exposed to that, too, with social media completely shifting the trajectory and seeming to shape and control public opinion and the overall narrative throughout the trial.LaineyGossip

The Johnny Depp Amber Heard verdict doesn’t matter after the internet made a spectacle of abuse

Teen Vogue also discusses the dangers of abusers using the courts to clear their names. Busting the myth of the perfect victim, this article also notes that Amber Heard “shouldn’t have to be good to be believed.”

If the spectacle produces awareness of a problem, there is a growing concern it may also drive survivors back into silence – the only burden possibly lifted during #MeToo. The 19th reports survivor advocates are worried about Depp’s usage of defamation law becoming a tool for abusers to punish survivors for leaving, as well as having a chilling effect on survivors coming forward. ‘A defamation suit offers a perpetrator a deepening of the power disparities in the relationship and face-to-face contact with a survivor,’ Nicole Bedera, PhD, a sociologist who studies sexual violence, told The 19th.” Teen Vogue

What exactly did Amber Heard do wrong?

Perhaps one of the more succinct and direct criticisms of Depp’s tactics, this post from Pajiba makes its statement before the verdict was delivered. 

Johnny Depp sought to make this trial as public as possible so that he could marshall the full force of his PR team, his obliviously loyal fanbase, and a court of public opinion that favors powerful men like Depp so that he could re-abuse Heard all over again. This is not about $50 million (Amber Heard doesn’t even have $50 million). Johnny Depp is using the court system as a form of abuse itself. He is using this trial to humiliate Amber Heard, to further turn public opinion against her, and rally his massive fanbase against her.” Pajiba

Jacob Hoggard

Yet another man behaving terribly. In this case, it is Hedley lead singer Jacob Hoggard who used the “rock star lifestyle” as an excuse to commit sexual assault and pursue female fans much younger than himself. 

‘That stuff has been so normalized’: What the trial of Hedley’s Jacob Hoggard says about his ‘rock star lifestyle’

This article goes beyond the crimes Hoggard committed to talk about the “groupie” stereotype and, again, the fear that abusers will use defamation lawsuits to shift public opinion in their favour. 

“…fans trying to come forward about abuse face not only the fear of not being believed and being pilloried as attention-seeking or money-grubbing by fans of the artist, but [also] the prospect of defamation lawsuits and legal intimidation…Meanwhile, the perpetuation of the myth that all female fans are ‘groupies’ leads them to be seen as sexual objects and helps create an environment where exploitation can happen and where victims will be dismissed or disbelieved.” The Toronto Star

Jacob Hoggard trial exposes misconceptions about consent: experts

As the headline indicates, this article discusses the notion of consent in law and in the real world.   

There were power dynamics at play in the case, such as differences in age and social status, that Canada’s consent laws don’t account for, but can nonetheless influence how sexual violence survivors process their own experiences… ‘It’s important for survivors to understand it, because sometimes you can gaslight yourself in these situations…Just because you wanted to see someone, just because you wanted to kiss someone doesn’t mean you want to be sexually assaulted.’” Global News

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