Actor Amber Heard listens in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on May 23, 2022. (Photo: STEVE HELBER via Getty Images)
My hip connected painfully with the corner of the baker’s rack, sending both me and the pile of mail that had been stacked there falling to the floor. I’d been racing to get to the kitchen so I could call 911, but I hadn’t been fast enough. My fiancé caught up with me just before I reached the phone. I felt two hands connect with my back as I ran, causing me to lose my balance. I clipped the rack before careening into the nearby kitchen counter and then crashed to the floor.
It was the night I’d finally mustered the strength to leave, the first time in all of those violent and anger-filled months that I’d dared say, “I don’t want to be with you anymore” out loud. But, instead of letting me go, my fiancé exploded into a terrifying fit of rage that almost cost me my life.
I cowered on the floor beneath him as he smashed the phone that was supposed to be my ticket to salvation against the side of the counter until it snapped in half, and then flinched as he threw the broken pieces at me. I stayed on the ground while he slammed his way through the kitchen, banging on the upper cabinet doors and kicking at the lower ones as screams and spit flew from his lips. My entire body vibrated with terror as realization sunk in: I was in danger.
I will never forget what came after he finally stopped banging around the kitchen and turned his attention back to me, which is why my heart raced and my hands shook as I watched a clip Amber Heard recorded of then-husband Johnny Depp similarly making his way through their kitchen.
That video — and several other recordings, text messages and photos — were released by Amber’s legal team in an attempt to defend herself from a defamation lawsuit filed by her ex-husband.
In 2018, Amber wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post, in which she said she had been the victim of domestic violence. Even though she never named Johnny as her abuser, it was easy enough to put two and two together, prompting Johnny to sue the star in hopes of clearing his name and clawing back some of the income he says her allegations cost him.
An estimated 1 in 3 women have experienced some form of violence at the hands of their partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and like so many women who have been in my shoes, I can’t understand why so many people have decided to turn Amber’s testimony into a punchline.
I get that the sensational details (Johnny claims Amber once defecated on his bed) and the high-profile natures of both Amber and Johnny make it seem like a farce, but I guarantee you, for victims and survivors of domestic violence, this is no laughing matter.
Among the many memes and hot takes populating social media, I’ve seen T-shirts pop up on my Facebook feed dedicated to Johnny’s alleged mega pint wine glass. Lance Bass posted (and then later deleted) a video of himself on TikTok mocking Amber by reenacting a segment of her testimony in which she described the aftermath of an attack.
The Wichita Police Department joined in when it posted on Facebook about an incident in a wig shop. A woman had defecated on some wigs and officers were asking the public for help identifying her using images from the store’s cameras. Down the thread, the police department joked, “We’ve already confirmed that this is NOT Amber Heard so please stop calling and emailing that info!”
“Saturday Night Live” also made light of the court case in a cold open, focusing on the yet-to-be-substantiated claims about Amber and the bed. Not only did the skit completely ignore the fact that Amber has accused her ex of sexual assault, but it further trivialized the entire situation.
I remember sitting in a courtroom with my abuser, recalling the details of what followed my own terrifying night in the kitchen. If I had to go through that again today, after watching the way Amber’s testimony has been turned into content for trolls and celebs looking for a way to get a laugh, I don’t know that I’d be able to.
Seeing the levels of scorn, mockery, and disbelief facing Amber as supporters rush to defend the affable and charming Johnny, I truly wonder if I’d even have the nerve to leave. If Amber, a beautiful, blond movie star with millions of dollars to her name isn’t to be trusted, isn’t to be believed, and instead deserves ridicule from the masses — what hope do the rest of us have?
We may never know the truth of what happened behind closed doors with Amber and Johnny, but I do know this: The public spectacle surrounding this trial has likely already set back victims of both genders.
Johnny and Amber aren’t the ones suffering when you make jokes about their trial; current victims and survivors are. You may think you’re just cracking harmless jokes or getting in on sharing a funny meme, but what you’re actually doing is telling the rest of us that we need to keep our stories to ourselves. It’s not that big of a deal, these jokes tell us. You probably gave it as good as you got it, they say.
Not only does this case have the potential to set a worrying legal precedent for silencing those who speak out about abuse, I worry that the response to this case is creating a generation of women who will be too scared to tell their stories in the first place.
We should really know better by now.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.