The Internet Discourse Surrounding Depp v. Heard Has Been Re-Traumatizing Victims Since Day One

Consider how the irresponsible coverage and social media wars have impacted survivors of intimate partner violence.

A majority of the work I publish usually relates to victims’ rights, narratives, and awareness about intimate partner violence. I mainly write about the female experience, as I can only describe what I know. But I have always supported all male and non-binary victims equally.

Although I haven’t written on the topic specifically, I have never once believed that women are incapable of abuse. They certainly are. I’ve met quite a few female abusers in my lifetime, and one of them was in my family. At a young age, I witnessed firsthand the effects of her emotionally abusive behavior towards multiple family members — including her husband.

We must take the testimonies of male survivors seriously, whether they are abused by a man or woman. It’s disappointing to me that we needed a celebrity poster boy for male abuse victims in order to collectively come to this conclusion.

In the case of Depp V. Heard, I listened to and believed Johnny for many years. Of course, it’d be dishonest of me to pretend that the popular consensus didn’t factor into my support for him. Despite all of my efforts to avoid the coverage, my propensity to believe victims combined with the fact that I was constantly inundated with content that favored his position made it too easy for me to pick a side.

However, I’ve recently learned a difficult lesson about #MeToo and the risks of social media advocacy.

This case has been covered and discussed at length for years. Within that span, my humble opinion of who abused who has shifted several times. As a survivor and advocate, it was quite jarring to realize that my initial take—and many thereafter— was potentially misinformed.

You know, the opinions I wrote about and retweeted and shared in support of on social media for all to see.

Coming to terms with this has been a humbling and incredibly confusing process. The worst part was having to acknowledge the fact that, even after all I’ve seen and studied, I am still capable of underestimating a wealthy and powerful abuser’s ability to dupe the public.

I’ve observed within the advocacy and victim communities that we tend to be a little bit blinded by our own expertise when it comes to high-profile cases like this most recent example. I say this not to discredit any victim’s truth or opinion on the case, but to point out that our distinct knowledge almost adds a layer of pride. When it comes to #MeToo stories, pride can be completely counterproductive, leading to tunnel vision or denial.

Not to mention the fact that we are usually triggered by these topics, which can heighten our emotions. We easily start to see our abuser’s behavior in the mannerisms of the people involved. We think, “That’s exactly what my abuser did/looked like, so they must be guilty.” or “I could spot an abuser from a mile away, there’s no way they could fool me.”

But it’s always possible. It’s an unfortunate yet undeniable fact about abusers that all victims can agree on: their manipulation is alarmingly effective and is designed to work on everyone.

That’s right, nobody is immune to manipulation. You could be the most intelligent Einstein-IQ-having-neuroscientist-doctor that’s ever existed, and you could still fall for it. It’s important that we recognize this because if we don’t, we’re doomed to create blind spots.

A substantial contributor to victim-blaming is the fact that we all are horrible at admitting when we were on the wrong side of a #MeToo story. It understandably happens all the time because we are imperfect human beings and abusers are extremely skilled at disguising themselves. But there should be a way to come back from these mistakes without it having to collapse the entire movement.

Each IPV case is unique. Why should the outcome of one have such a drastic effect on all of the others?

I wish we could forgive ourselves instead of immediately switching to defense and digging our heels deeper into our original stance. When we fight against accountability, it creates a climate of chaos and vitriol on the internet.

All I’ve seen on social media in regards to this case are vicious altercations between people who disagree about whether Johnny or Amber is the real victim of abuse.

Screenshot of Twitter provided by author

The most disturbing element of this cultural uproar is that it has pit survivor against survivor, and advocate against advocate, because we have all responded differently to the triggers brought on by this sensitive topic. And when we disagree with someone on the internet, it can begin to feel personal very quickly. We usually fall into patterns of fighting to masquerade any possible doubt by crushing the credibility of the opposing party.

The result is a mangled calamity of toxic defense mechanisms shooting from every side of the issue.

A common scenario I noticed within the neverending Twitter discourse around the case was that a survivor would declare that one of the celebrity’s testimonies reminded them of their abuser, and therefore they know that they must be the real aggressor. Another survivor would oppose this survivor’s perspective, arguing that the other participant’s testimony reminded them of their abuser.

From that point, it turned into a petty quarrel about which abusive actions were more abusive — as if it was a contest.

Instead of the Twitter users realizing that both of their perspectives are valid in their own ways — because they are at odds — they end up criticizing each other. They proceed to waste a significant chunk of their time and energy hyper-focusing on details of the trial, all to defend the honor of a rich celebrity who will never know that either of them exists.

Neither of these commentators were necessarily wrong. They were speaking from experience and were able to point to abusive behaviors and red flags. Even though one of the celebrities is the true aggressor, it shouldn’t be on any of us to decide that. It’s the coverage the case has received that has encouraged us to take on this responsibility

Although the public would benefit greatly from serious discussion about the abstruse facets of IPV that victims can provide, that’s not what people are focused on. Everything must be black or white.

In the end, their conversation positively affects nothing about the case or prevalence of intimate partner violence. The main thing that is impacted — negatively — is the mental health of each commentator and that of any other survivors who read the thread.

In most of the social media arguments I observed, it was clear to me that these people were likely reacting to traumatic memories that resurfaced due to the exploitive media circus disguised as a #MenToo movement.

Survivors are experts in *their* experience, but not necessarily *all* experiences of gender-based violence. And some will begin to rank other survivors’ stories based on how similar they are to their own.”

Dr. Nicole Bedera Ph.D., Sociologist

Ironically, a fundamental element of victim advocacy is acceptance of the validity of each survivor’s reaction to trauma.

Witnessing victims scrutinize one another for what they perceived from this public trial was the most heartbreaking result of this pop culture event. There are no words to accurately describe how regressive this has already been for these communities. We can only predict what fresh hell is to come.

Our collective pride is too strong for us to learn anything significant from these high-profile cases.

Maybe our pride and stubbornness aren’t completely to blame, though. It’s also the fact that we are all so ready to point the finger at other people’s flaws. And we don’t even accept when someone admits fault. Just look at what happened to Lizzo when she apologized for her use of an offensive slur in her latest single, “GRRRLS.” She responded to the backlash with more class and remorse than most celebrities do, but it still wasn’t enough for us.

Screenshot of Twitter provided by author

We don’t allow people to make mistakes, and we don’t allow ourselves to either. It’s a destructive cycle. We’re so afraid of being wrong and it’s keeping us all down. How can we progress if we’re in denial?

Instead of motivating us to focus on how we can change our victim-blaming attitudes, this case became a media farce where misinformation and animosity became what the public demanded — and you know what that means! People profited from the resulting collective trauma and reinforcement of misconceptions about IPV.

Memes and Tik Toks became the main source of information, and we are so desensitized that we saw nothing wrong with that. Many strongly believed that they could totally judge a case fairly by “watching the entire trial” after being subjected to propaganda multiple times daily for years.

Think about the unpredictably complex and uniquely nuanced nature of each individual case of intimate partner violence. Most of the public clearly is not thinking about it this way. Most are not trauma-informed or educated on the basics of narcissistic abuse.

“Some victims are completely devoid of any emotion, and that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. They are disconnected — it’s quite a normal response to trauma. Whereas others can’t even put a sentence together because they’re crying so much, and that’s normal, too.”

-Claire Waxman, London’s Victim Commissioner

But even those of us who are educated on the intricacies may be too close to accurately deliberate the details, especially when the intense social implications of the coverage are consistently re-traumatizing us.

Considering all of this, how could any of us possibly qualify ourselves to judge this case?

Our social media debates distract us from the productive conversations we could be having. Instead of taking the opportunity to enlighten ourselves, we’re using our energy to argue with random Twitter armchair psychologists and inflicting pain onto ourselves and others in the process.

I am certainly guilty of this. It’s why I tried with all my might to avoid the coverage of Depp V. Heard. I knew that the worst of this culture would swallow me whole once I dipped my pinky toe into the toxic vat of social media commentary. And that it did.

Even as I’m writing this, I’m still involved in these Twitter squabbles. My passion for advocacy has made it nearly impossible for me to let the social media discussion go. My pride has no doubt contributed to this as well.

Since 2016, I’ve formed reactionary opinions without any research. I’ve gone back on statements I previously made due to speaking before I was fully informed. Recently, as the trial unfolded, I became obsessed with any updates related to the case due to feelings of guilt about my initial opinion potentially being incorrect.

I’ve let my emotions get the best of me. I’ve publicly overshared and trauma-dumped. I’ve hypocritically insulted and dismissed the opinions of other people who are only trying to understand something impossibly complicated — just as I am.

Anxiety, depression, and hyper fixation are very typical reactions of someone who has C-PTSD and is inundated with triggering content on a daily basis — despite consistent attempts to mute and unfollow the topic for years.

These are classic patterns that I fall back into whenever I’m in pain. I’ve observed these same patterns in the behaviors of other survivors — many of which resorted to invalidating my feelings when I revealed my doubts about Johnny’s innocence.

I cry for them.

Because anyone who has the capacity to be so cruel towards another survivor — or any human being — must be in agony. Who wouldn’t be when faced with haunting memories drudged up by a horrifying case of intimate partner violence turned spectacle that is impossible to avoid anywhere you look?

But projecting our hurt onto others will not do anything for male abuse victims. That’s how I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this cultural response is not right. This case should not have divided us.

It would benefit society greatly if we could all just admit when we do not know something for sure, especially since we literally never do. We keep insisting that we’re all so reliable when it comes to these cases, but in reality, we’ve been duped by countless criminals, charlatans, and predators throughout history.

We’ve elected them into office, purchased their art, promoted their content, and we’ve even publicly advocated for them with hashtags and memes when it seemed the world was out to ruin their careers through the horrors of “cancel culture.” We’re still doing it to this day.

It happens. We’re not perfect. But it’s also clear we’re not learning from history because we’re not admitting our faults. So, they will all keep recurring.

I expect that even my current take on the case could change. Being wrong is a necessary part of learning and understanding the world. We all need to acknowledge this basic concept in order for us to progress.

What can we do?

Whether you are a victim or not, you have the capacity to empathize. This includes self-acceptance. Open yourself up to the possibility that you could be wrong about something, and be kind to yourself about it. Have the strength to admit it.

Understand that a lot of people are suffering in unique ways as a consequence of this case. Be patient with others when they oppose you, or even if they are incorrect.

You also need to know when to walk away. Do not get wrapped up in social media mayhem. Distance yourself from your apps when you can. Trust me, “winning” an argument with a stranger at the expense of your mental health is not worth it.

By all means, feel what you feel about it. Write about it. Process it. Discuss it respectfully with others. Most importantly, listen to understand differences. My suggestions may appear simple, but they’re deceptively difficult to accomplish.

At least give some of these a try. We’ve worked too hard for us to let this one high-profile case turn us against each other.

Thank you for reading! What did you think? Leave a comment below. To support my work, consider buying me a cup of coffee!


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