Content note: this post discusses domestic violence and abuse, and apologism
When a rich, powerful white man is accused of perpetrating violence against women, a dance begins. It is the world’s worst dance, making Agadoo look like the Bolshoi Ballet. In this well-choreographed dance, everybody rallies around the abuser. They support the abuser, claiming that he is the best guy in the world, and couldn’t have possibly done it. They leap over the evidence presented by the survivor, all in step. Nothing can dent their pal’s Nice Guy status.
It probably doesn’t even matter who the abuser is, or how well they truly know him. This dance is political: it is a way of protecting all abusers across the globe by showing survivors what happens if they speak out.
Let us pretend, for a moment, that some of what is being said is true. Let’s imagine a chap called Johnny Blepp, who has been accused of beating up his wife. Let’s imagine some washed-up pals of his, who we’ll call Paul Gettany and Dickey Rourke and Vanessa Cara–oh fuck it, we all know who we’re talking about here, don’t we?
I believe that Johnny Depp beat Amber Heard. I would believe this even without the sheer level of evidence that Amber Heard showed, the sheer level of evidence which was sufficient to get a restraining order granted.
And, to be perfectly honest, I’d believe Amber Heard even if I was BFFs with Johnny Depp, because I know something which has apparently escaped the notice of those who are seeking attention by leaping to his defence: even if a man is nice to you that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of harming anyone.
If Paul Bettany had given things a moment’s thought, perhaps he would consider how he has never shared a house, a room, a bed with Johnny Depp, so probably can’t have the first clue what his pal’s like behind closed doors. If Mickey Rourke had had a little think before opening his gob, maybe he would have considered that just because he had never been hit by his mate, doesn’t mean his mate has never hit anyone. If Vanessa Paradis had taken a few seconds, maybe she would have remembered she hasn’t lived with her ex husband in at least four years, and a lot has happened in those four years, so perhaps so has her ex’s temper.
All of these people are outsiders. None of them are party to the knowledge of what goes on behind closed doors. So why on earth do they presume that they know so much that they can confidently accuse a woman of perjury? That is, after all, what they are doing when a woman has gone to court, told her story (and been granted a restraining order), and they accuse her of having made it up.
I understand that it can sometimes feel implausible that your friend might do horrible things, but this is why it is important to remember that you have no way of knowing how they treat others. You have no way of knowing what it’s like when they go home. Abusers are manipulative people, and have you considered that you are being played?
Again, I get why people may be resistant to that question: nobody likes to feel like a fool. Nonetheless, Depp’s friends, coming out in support of him, are serving not just their mate, but abusers everywhere. They’re helpful little pawns, parroting a line which keeps survivors silent, showing survivors that nobody will believe them. Their intervention isn’t even particularly helpful to their friend: after all, nothing happens to rich white abusers. Look at Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, for example.
If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all. You’re not being objective in the slightest when you knee-jerk defend your friend based on your complete lack of knowledge. You don’t need to say anything at all: if you don’t believe the survivor, keep your gob shut, because you’re mostly basing your disbelief on misogynistic tropes you’ve been fed since birth. If you truly want to keep an open mind, you need to keep your mouth shut, and give what a survivor has said equal weighting to your pal’s denial.
All we know about our friends is they are nice to us. It is peculiarly childish to extend their niceness to us into an assumption that they are nice to everyone.
One day, I hope the dance will falter. I admire the courage of every woman who comes forward despite the power of the man who abused her, and despite the fact that surely she must know that everyone will close ranks with tedious predictability.
I believe Amber Heard. I cannot believe I need to say this, when it ought to go without saying. I believe that Johnny Depp attacked and beat his wife, and I believe Amber Heard.