More Than 130 Organizations and Experts Sign Open Letter in Support of Amber Heard
CONTACT: Jessica Baskerville, [email protected], NWLC, 202-588-7601; Bell Abesti (Pseudonym), [email protected], Open Letter Project Organizer, 408-922-9921, @letterforAmber (Twitter and Instagram)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — Nov. 16, 2022 – More than 100 organizations and experts signed an open letter supporting Amber Heard and called for an end to online harassment and intimidation of individuals who report sexual and domestic abuse.
The letter also notes that much of the online harassment of Heard and her supporters was monetized by major social media platforms, and called for an end to “a monetized social media environment where a woman’s allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault were mocked for entertainment.”
The signatories include numerous major gender justice organizations including the National Women’s Law Center, Esperanza United, Futures Without Violence, Feminist Majority, Sakhi for South Asian Women, Women’s March Foundation, National Organization for Women, Equality Now and a host of domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy organizations, academics who work in the field, legal and other experts including author and activist Gloria Steinem.
“Everyone should be able to report abuse without fear of retaliation,” said Elizabeth Tang, Senior Counsel for Education and Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center. “But survivors of sex-based harassment, including sexual assault and domestic violence, often face retaliation—including, increasingly, through the misuse of defamation lawsuits. The threat of a defamation suit alone can silence a survivor. And if a survivor has already reported, their abuser can misuse defamation law to force them to recant, punish them for coming forward, or continue the cycle of abuse. In the aftermath of the high-profile Depp-Heard defamation trial and the vitriolic online harassment unleashed against Heard and her supporters, we are deeply concerned that survivors will be further intimidated from reporting abuse.”
Dr. Emma Katz, an academic and author of Coercive Control in Children’s and Mothers’ Lives, added, “In the Depp v. Heard trial, behaviors that are common to survivors were relentlessly mocked and misunderstood. These common survivor behaviors, including covering injuries with make-up and leaving your abuser then arranging to meet with them again – were widely condemned as signs of deception.” Katz continued, “Many survivors watched these public conversations unfold with dread, as the question “will I be believed if I come forward” seemed to be met with a resounding ‘no’.”
Bell Abesti, one of the organizers of the Open Letter who is using a pseudonym as a survivor of abuse, commented, “The reaction to this trial just reinforced why so many survivors stay silent. Not only do we fear retaliation from the person who abused us, but we fear being ostracized and harassed by others as well. I personally know women who have reconsidered reporting after seeing what happened online to Amber Heard.”
This view was echoed by Lisa Sales, President of the Virginia Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and a member of the Fairfax County Council to End Domestic Violence. Sales said “From the courtroom to the boardroom, I worry about American institutions creating conditions for survivors to be fearful to talk about what happened to them openly. There is no doubt that the way Heard was mistreated online during the trial, which happened in my backyard, has had a chilling effect on women and other vulnerable populations in Virginia, and indeed nationwide.” Sales continued, “As a survivor myself, I believe it is critical that judges making decisions in the lives of survivors should be mandated to take training in trauma-informed handling of sexual and domestic violence.”
Background on Depp v. Heard
Mr. Depp sued his former wife Amber Heard claiming he was defamed by a Washington Post op-ed she authored describing herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Mr. Depp was not mentioned in the op-ed. A United Kingdom court found against Mr. Depp in a similar lawsuit against a newspaper that was upheld on appeal. In 2022 a trial on Mr. Depp’s allegations concerning the Washington Post piece was held in Virginia. The trial, many agreed, became a media circus in which Ms. Heard was exposed testifying on live television about graphic allegations of sexual and domestic violence. Her widely broadcast video testimony, and other details of the case – accurate and not — became fodder for monetized social media harassment of Ms. Heard and her supporters. In June 2022, a Fairfax County, Virginia, jury returned a split verdict that is being appealed by both parties.