Johnny Depp and also Amber Heard in ~ a premiere for "The Danish Girl" throughout the Venice film Festival in Venice, Italy, top top Sept. 5, 2015.Tristan Fewings / Getty images file
This week, American actor Johnny Depp shed a libel suit he filed in London, suing the newspaper The sun for running an article that referred to as him a "wife beater," a reference to his connection with ex-wife Amber Heard. It was an ugly case, dragging both actors" private lives right into the spotlight. And it to be a facility case; every accused the various other of abuse. But there was a clear winner, various other than the tabloid paper: domestic violence victims.

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It to be an ugly case, dragging both actors’ exclusive lives right into the spotlight. And also it to be a complicated case; every accused the other of abuse.


First, the facts. Depp and also Heard met when she was just 22 and he was a 45-year-old dad of two living with his longtime partner, Vanessa Paradis. A few years later, Depp and also Heard married and also soon divorced. Just before the divorce, Heard filed because that a restraining stimulate — and photographers captured the mark on her confront as she walked in and also out the a Los Angeles court. Heard"s allegations that Depp had physically and also verbally abused her while making use of drugs and also alcohol were shortly widely publicized. Depp has always denied them, saying that in reality, Heard had actually abused him.


Second, the law. British libel legislation works differently from the American version. In short, in the united States, the burden of proof because that libel is ~ above the person claiming to have actually been libeled — the is, the plaintiff has actually to show that what was created is false (at least in situations involving problem of windy concern). In the joined Kingdom, the burden of evidence is on the party accused the libel — that is, The Sun had to prove the what it published around Depp to be true. A judge hosted that it had actually met the burden and that 12 the 14 the Heard"s accusations that abuse met the threshold for truth in civil court. Depp"s attorneys say they plan to appeal. (Depp is additionally suing Heard for defamation in a U.S. Court after ~ she published an op-ed in The Washington article identifying herself as a survivor the sexual and also physical violence.)


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Depp isn"t just the loser here legally; he has also clearly lost the plot. The totality goal of this lawsuit was, ostensibly, to rehabilitate his reputation. And certainly if Depp is telling the truth — and also lots the fans that gathered external the courthouse and are tweeting #JusticeForJohnnyDepp believe he is the real victim below — one can understand why the would desire to clean his name. Yet by filing multiple lawsuits, Depp is only prolonging and expanding the coverage — reminding human being of it and bringing it to brand-new people"s attention. He"s not rehabilitating his reputation; he"s further tarnishing it.

And even if it is Depp is telling the reality or no — and also a court of law just organized that Heard is the truthful one below — libel regulation goes past just these two civilization or even the appropriate of tabloids come publish whatever they want about celebrities with tiny fear the reprisal. Under british law, world can sue because that libel and win if the human being (or entities) they"re suing can"t prove that the insurance claims they made were true.


Abusers with resources can constantly threaten libel suits; also if castle lose, castle may very well have drained the victims of their money and resolve.


In both the U.S. And the U.K., abusers with resources can always threaten libel suits; even if they lose, lock may an extremely well have actually drained the victims of your money and also resolve. This is a real barrier for survivors that intimate companion violence, who often go to good lengths to hide the abuse they"re suffering and also don"t frequently carefully record every incident.


Intimate companion violence remains underreported, stigmatized and also often quiet in the shadows; the obstacles to comes forward are currently high, and also most females who suffer violence from loved ones never ever speak the end publicly. Because that abuse victims, the threat of a lawsuit — particularly if the abuser has the sources to sue — can be yet one more muzzle.

Obviously there are prices for the falsely accused, too. Having actually a damaging falsity spread about you is no little inconvenience — particularly for those who don"t have actually millions in the financial institution to fall earlier on. But filing a lawsuit and proving significant damage is an uphill battle, specifically in the united States, where average civilization need to prove the what was said around them is false.The American device lets more speech stand, and also it provides survivors more leeway come speak out, yet that has actually costs, also — after ~ all, many defamation cases aren"t about domestic violence but are about other damaging accused false claims.

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There is no perfect balance here. American libel laws are possibly too lax and also make the too straightforward to i announced falsities around people — and too hard for anyone but the very rich to appropriate that wrong. And also British legislations are also conservative, placing too heavy a load on publications and individuals — especially individuals without the way to prove their cases in court. The people who miss out in both solution aren"t well-off actors; they"re average folks who room wronged, by either a false case or a true one castle can"t prove, and also have tiny recourse.


Jill Filipovic is a journalist and also the writer of "OK Boomer, Let"s Talk: how My Generation got Left Behind" and "The H-Spot: The Feminist pursuit of Happiness."