It’s hard to find any redeeming value in the saga of actor Johnny Depp suing his ex-wife Amber Heard for defamation. The trial brought to public attention a series of private failures, including character flaws, drug addiction and physical abuse.
Within this corrosive vortex, a remarkable change is quietly taking place. With Depp and Heard testifying to physical abuse, the trial challenged the common perception that men can never be victims of domestic violence.
As Heard said in a recording played during the trial: “Tell people it was a fair fight and see what the jury and the judge think about it. Tell the world, Johnny. Tell them, “I, Johnny Depp, am a victim of domestic violence too, and it was a fair fight,” and see if people believe you or side with you.
She’s not wrong.
The reach of “The Shadow Pandemic,” an international campaign to shine a light on the domestic violence amplified by pandemic lockdowns, is telling. Led by the United Nations, the campaign flatly ignored men. Months into the pandemic, UN Secretary General António Guterres tweeted, “I urge all governments to prioritize the safety of women in their response to the pandemic.” There was nothing unusual about Guterres’ call.
The public conversation around domestic violence rarely mentions men. A New York Times article exclusively cataloged female stories of domestic violence, while a Wall Street Journal article did much the same. Meanwhile, scholars studying intimate partner violence, or IPV, during the pandemic have called the abuse men suffer from “less severe”. Time and time again, male vulnerability is excluded from the story of domestic violence.
Statistical reality paints a different picture. Investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined a sample of nearly 12,000 young adults in heterosexual relationships and were surprised by the results. Women were found to perpetrate physical violence at more than twice the rate of men, and women were found to cause almost three-quarters of ‘non-reciprocal partner violence’. The findings shocked the researchers, who wrote: “This matters because violence perpetrated by women is often seen as trivial.
It’s the deeply uncomfortable — and rarely acknowledged — truth about domestic abuse. A growing body of literature supports a more nuanced view that men represent a significant number of victims. However, it should be emphasized that while men may be victimized at rates close to those of women, the severity of the attacks is not the same. Women experience significantly higher levels of serious violence than men.
Social discourse, however, has not caught up with the statistical landscape.
The data collides headlong with the founding mythologies of gender equality organizations that see men as special allies, not vulnerable human beings who also need care and protection. That’s why, despite the harmfulness of Depp-Heard’s carnival of inconvenience, male victims of domestic violence suddenly come out of the woodwork. NBC reported that many of these men see Depp v. Heard as a “turning point in the stigmatization of male survivors.” One man told NBC that Depp’s story “took a weight” off his shoulders.
“Mr. Depp is actually brave enough to come forward. I would have felt humiliated to have to tell the public that my 5ft2 ex used to beat me to death,” the man said.
His story is a drop in the ocean. According to the article’s author, Kalhan Rosenblatt, there appear to be “thousands of tweets from victims describing how empowered they felt by Depp’s case.”
Where our attention goes, so does the money. As a Government of Canada study acknowledged, although men are physically abused “in large numbers…little attention has been paid to their needs.” Consequently, even fewer resources are devoted to men’s health. In 2019, the United States had only two shelters for male victims of domestic violence, the oldest dating back to 2015.
In Texas, a state with a population and gross domestic product roughly equivalent to Canada, there is only one male-only shelter. While national numbers for women’s shelters in the United States are hard to come by, for perspective, Canada — a country one-tenth the size of America — had 627 women’s shelters in operation nearly a decade ago. year. Only 6% of them admitted adult men.
Heard, then, felt confident challenging Depp to a domestic violence battle in the court of public opinion: Most of the time, men who report abuse aren’t taken seriously. According to one study, only 8% of male victims found the helplines helpful, while more than 16% “said staff laughed at them”.
This time, however, many people see not just one unsympathetic witness on the stand, but two. Some polls have found a majority of Americans believe Depp over Heard, who allegedly fired his PR reps after seeing negative polls.
If nothing else good comes out of this trial, maybe it will finally break the zero-sum equation of gender politics in domestic violence. Let’s replace it with a nuanced portrait of domestic violence that serves all survivors, men and women.
Ari David Blaff, a contributing writer for Deseret News, is a Canadian journalist who has written for National Review, Tablet, Quillette and the Institute for Family Studies.