DARVO

June 2, 2022

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

As I said in yesterday’s post, I haven’t watched the Heard-Depp trial and haven’t followed the mud-slinging between the sides. However, since yesterday’s verdict, I have read quite a few articles analyzing the case and dissecting the strategy. Most believe the verdict was influenced by the media circus surrounding the trial, heavily weighted in Mr. Depp’s favor, and the decision was a major blow to the women’s movement.

The New Yorker characterizes the verdict as chilling, observing that many victims of domestic abuse who watched the trial will conclude that by sharing their experiences, they will be disbelieved, shamed, and ostracized.

Time Magazine contends the trial reminds us that the legal system is still stacked against survivors.

The Los Angeles Times deemed the verdict a step back for the #MeToo movement.

The Hollywood Reporter wondered why the Hollywood activists have been silent and noted the absence of solidarity is an indication the #MeToo movement may be in trouble.

And Vice News believes the Right thinks Johnny Depp killed the #MeToo movement, and they’re very excited about it.

In response to the verdict, I’ve seen the memoir community express concern over the implications of the decision against Heard, and how it could impact our ability to tell our own stories.

Having been on the receiving end of sexual harassment, retaliation, and even abuse at the hands of a powerful writer/producer in the entertainment community, I’m naturally concerned how my story will be received. I’ve already seen how supposed “allies” of women’s empowerment shrink into the shrubbery when put in the position of actually doing something.

I’ve been verbally attacked by women who just don’t want to hear anything bad about the man who harassed me. I’ve had women enable his attacks, inflicting on me as much, if not more, damage than he has. The thing all these allies and women have in common is, they all claim to be feminists. Hypocrisy is alive and well and living in Hollywood.

In 2018, after publishing an Op-Ed in The Washington Post, Ms. Heard faced defamation charges brought by her ex-husband. Yesterday, the news outlet added this editor’s note to the original article:

Editor’s note, June 2, 2022: In 2019, Johnny Depp sued Amber Heard for defamation arising out of this 2018 op-ed. On June 1, 2022, following a trial in Fairfax County, Va. Circuit Court, a jury found Heard liable on three counts for the following statements, which Depp claimed were false and defamatory: (1) “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath. That has to change.” (2) “Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” (3) “I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.” The jury separately found that Depp, through his lawyer Adam Waldman, defamed Heard in one of three counts in her countersuit.

When I started reading about the case, one particular article stood out in its ability to cut to the heart of the fear victims face when confronted with a powerful abuser. The Washington Post quotes Mark Stephens, an international media lawyer familiar with both cases, on a system known as DARVO — an acronym for Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender. Stephens explains, “We find that DARVO works very well with juries but almost never works with judges, who are trained to look at evidence.”

DARVO explains why a judge in the U.K. determined multiple allegations that Depp was a “wife beater” where true, while a jury in the U.S. seems to blame the vicitm. Personally, I’ve seen many so-called allies attack Heard with the most vitriolic names, accusations and threats of harm. I’m amazed at the rage directed at her by both women and men who I would normally consider “liberal,” “pro-woman,” and “anti-domestic abuse.” It reminds me of what I have already endured on the few occasions when I have chosen to speak out.

I wanted to share the post of one of these FB friends and can no longer find it. Maybe it was deleted because it was truly over the top in rage. I did find several posts over the years where this person repeatedly refers to Ms. Heard as “a bitch” and celebrates every misfortune in her life. Meanwhile, on this same timeline are numerous posts defending Mr. Depp and praising the verdict.

I’m also part of a private group on FB where one of the members asked whether the outcome of the trial will affect how women write about their (presumably abusive) ex-partners. One of the members took the opportunity to retry the case, calling Ms. Heard a liar who should be brought up on perjury, and an “evil abusive woman looking for attention and a quick buck.” These kinds of statements prove to me, DARVO works.

Of course, not everyone is so blinded by enmity. I found this post on Medium quite insightful.

Even though I’ve seen it before, and have even experienced it myself, I’m still astonished by how hateful people can be toward someone they only know through the media. Given this level of rage, it’s no wonder we have such a problem with violence in this country.

As I was writing this piece, I was watching coverage of another mass shooting, this time in Oklahoma. The segment showed old clips of parents threatening to bring guns to the school if their children were forced to wear masks. I have to believe the inability to regulate anger, coupled with easy access to guns, is why we have so many mass shootings. But, I digress.

I am very concerned about how the Heard-Depp verdict will impact how women are able to tell their #MeToo stories. Why would publishers risk a lawsuit, even if they believe their clients, when juries can easily set aside the evidence and decide a case based on DARVO manipulation? Is this genre just “too hot to handle?” Most importantly, are we going to allow the Right-wing to keep setting back the women’s movement with attacks against our bodies and our reputations? How can we fight back if the people who are supposed to be on our side are nothing more than enablers or silent by-standers?

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Booliban Productions

Booliban Production was founded by Elden Rhoads with the mission of empowering women who are forced deal with harassment both in the workplace and elsewhere.