Warning: Content may be distressing
If you can't open Instagram or TikTok without seeing coverage of the defamation trial going on between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, you're not alone.
It's not just news coverage bombarding us everywhere we look online. There are memes, Twitter takes, and "funny" TikTok videos making light of what's going on between the two actors as their explosive relationship plays out in court.
Hashtags like "AmberHeardIsAPsycho" are trending online as social media users take sides in the court battle. Teenagers on TikTok are re-enacting Heard's testimony, in particular one clip during which she describes the moment Depp allegedly slapped her across the face. Cafe owners are putting out tip jars labelled "Amber" and "Johnny".
Whether you believe Depp's testimony over Heard's or vice versa, it's clear they have both suffered abuse. And domestic violence support advocates say it's not just the celebrities themselves affected by what's playing out in court. So are the countless men and women around the world who have been affected by domestic or partner violence, who are now being forced to watch it like it's a TV show.
Social media has made it easier than ever to access material that makes light of acts of violence, despite community guidelines that claim not to tolerate expressions of abuse or threatening behaviour. For a victim of domestic violence, this material can bring up past trauma and cause them to relive their experience.
Rachel Kain, a spokeswoman for domestic violence support charity Shine, says it's "disturbing" that accounts of physical and sexual violence between Depp and Heard are being turned into entertainment.
"Making jokes or memes to use humour to explain and excuse violence minimises the violence, and for someone experiencing abuse, might stop them reaching out for help," she explains.
"Memes and viral videos that suggest that people who disclose experiencing violence are attention-seeking, or making false allegations, can be triggering for someone experiencing violence who may have gotten unsafe responses previously, with the effect of further entrapping them with a person who is using violence against them."
Kain says it's common for both partners in an abusive relationship to use violence, but we need to look at the bigger picture.
"We need to look at larger questions such as 'Who controls who?', 'Who is afraid of who?' and 'Who had to change their life for the other person?'.
"When we ask these questions we typically find that one partner has significantly more power than the other, and coercively controls the other one, often to the extent that they fear for their life. We also need to look at the acts of violence and ask 'Was one partner using violence to resist the violence and coercive control of the other partner?'"
New Zealand Women's Refuge principal policy adviser Dr Natalie Thorburn says when it comes to Depp and Heard, that power imbalance is all too clear.
"The general consensus is that they are 'as bad as each other' or had a 'toxic relationship'. While domestic abuse is indeed toxic, there's nothing mutual about it," she tells the Herald.
"She's a well-resourced woman with power and influence, but he is more powerful. Women are more likely to be disbelieved, to be accused of having a nefarious agenda, to be blamed for the violence against him.
"We would like to think that wouldn't happen to women we care about. But if these are our default assumptions about a woman who has lived through physical abuse, threats, verbal abuse and reputation sabotage and who has done what we tell victims to do – tell someone, leave, go to court – only to have that violence ramp up while being called a liar, why would we think it will be different for other women?"
Thorburn says that when people attack Heard on social media, they probably don't realise that women they know may also be victims of abuse.
"They are seeing how women with stories like their own are scorned, blamed, judged and ridiculed. Feeling you won't be believed is one of the primary reasons women don't seek help when they're being harmed."
How to get help
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours or friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people. Scream for help so your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you. Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.
Where to go for help or more information:
• Women's Refuge: Crisis line - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 (available 24/7)
• Shine: Helpline - 0508 744 633 (available 24/7)
• It's Not Ok: Family violence information line - 0800 456 450
• Shakti: Specialist services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and children. Crisis line - 0800 742 584 (available 24/7)
• Ministry of Justice: For information on family violence
• Te Kupenga Whakaoti Mahi Patunga: National Network of Family Violence Services
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women
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