These are grisly and disturbing allegations that Amber Heard tearfully uttered in a Virginia courtroom. Details of a marriage seemingly marked by physical and psychological violence. The much-discussed process between the actress and her ex-husband, Hollywood star Johnny Depp, has been going on for weeks.

The latter is suing Heard for defamation for $50 million in damages and claims that the aggression came from her. Heard, in turn, has filed a counterclaim alleging “unbridled physical violence.”

In 2018, the actress wrote an article in the “Washington Post” in which she described her experience as a victim of sexual violence. For her denunciation, she felt the “anger of our culture” as a reaction, Heard wrote. The public reaction to the process now shows that four years later not much has changed. Rather, well-known patterns are confirmed and promoted.

No judgment has yet been made in the trial, but it has been on social media. Amber Heard in particular is portrayed as a mentally ill liar who only plays the role of the victim in order to make a profit. Depp’s fan camp does not stop at hate messages and death threats.

Snippets of the trial, broadcast live on TV, are flooding social media as tasteless memes, where hashtags like

Under the spotlight of the public, the process is exploited voyeuristically as a Hollywood war of the roses and thus becomes a reality soap opera that reveals a lot about how society deals with domestic and sexual violence. The MeToo movement has shown how ubiquitous it is, but has it become easier for those affected to share their experiences publicly?

The hostile mentality with which people reacted to this lawsuit raises doubts and fuels misogynistic revenge myths: the offended woman against the successful man. Precisely because of the great media attention, this process could have led to more social awareness of sexual and domestic violence, but instead it may retraumatize those affected and thus cement the silence. A fatal signal.

In this heated climate, it is almost impossible to advance the discourse with the necessary sensitivity. Rather, it shows how big the hurdles still are, how much hate, malice and disbelief those affected often have to adjust to. When a woman reports publicly about her pain and fear of death, it is always about the structural problem behind it, which cannot be dismissed out of hand and deserves the necessary respect.

Even before the verdict was pronounced, Heard reflexively denied her suffering and doubted her credibility in principle, does not testify to a society that has internalized listening without direct judgment. The judiciary must decide who wins this process. But it seems that there can only be losers here. In the courtroom – and outside.


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