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Amber Heard did what abuse victims are “supposed” to do. People still didn’t believe her.

Amber Heard Faces Trial In Gold Coast Court For Smuggling Johnny Depp's Dogs Into Australia Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

The divorce of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp is now final, and one thing’s for sure: Heard didn’t get any money out of it.

She settled the divorce out of court for $7 million, all of which she has now donated to charitable causes. She’s splitting the sum between the American Civil Liberties Union’s efforts to battle violence against women and the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, where she’s volunteered for the past 10 years.

And in a joint statement, both Heard and Depp affirmed that "neither party has made false accusations for financial gain."

In other words: Heard is not a gold digger, and she did not accuse Depp of cutting off part of his finger and then using the stump to finger paint the words "Easy Amber" on a mirror because she thought that would be a cool quick way to make some cash.

It’s a shame Heard felt the need to be so emphatic about the fact that she isn’t lying about her domestic violence claims, but it’s not surprising. Ever since she first filed for a restraining order against Depp in May, Heard has done everything we say domestic abuse survivors should do. She went to the police. She provided copious documentation. She went above and beyond to prove she wasn’t in it for the money.

People still insisted she was lying.

The history of Heard’s domestic violence allegations spans at least two years

On May 21, Heard says she asked a friend to call the police after Depp hit her with an iPhone and struck her. When they arrived, Heard told them she and Depp had only been arguing — which she now says was an attempt to protect Depp’s career. (It’s extremely common for victims of domestic abuse to feel the need to protect their abusers.)

According to text messages obtained by Entertainment Weekly, the May 2016 incident wasn’t the first time Depp had attacked Heard. Dated two years earlier, in May 2014, the messages detail an incident in which Depp kicked Heard. They also refer to a history of abuse. "He’s done this many times before … and I always stay," Heard writes. "Always believe he's going to get better...And then every 3 or so month [sic], I'm in the exact same position."

The day after the May 21 call to police, Heard and Depp separated. A day later, Heard filed for divorce. And a few days later, Heard filed for a restraining order.

Gossip coverage was immediately skeptical

TMZ broke the news of Heard’s request for a restraining order with a deeply skeptical post, whose second sentence reads, "Sources connected to Johnny are calling BS, saying Amber ‘is an affront to real victims of domestic violence.’" The story also notes, coyly, "It's interesting ... she's asking for a temporary restraining order claiming there's an immediate threat of harm, but Depp has been out of town since Wednesday promoting his new movie."

The comments left by readers are more than skeptical. "Everything is a made up story from Amber's mouth," one says. "She is so vindictive-what is it she really wants? No. couldn't be all this is to get money!"

"She has proved time after time she is after the money," another says. "its a shame that she would try to get so much publicity from something soo serious."

Then the evidence emerged: pictures of the bruises on Heard’s face, the broken champagne bottles Heard said Depp threw at her, the shattered glass on the floor.

TMZ’s commenters were having none of it.

"She’s in it for the money," wrote one.

"I don’t believe a word this whore has to say," said another.

Not long after, TMZ published an article alleging that Heard had absolutely no bruises on her face two days after Depp supposedly attacked her. "She is a lying piece of poo," one commenter opined.

Meanwhile, the comedian Doug Stanhope had published an op-ed at the Wrap stating that Heard was in fact the villain in the situation. "Johnny Depp got used, manipulated, set up and made to look like an a–hole," Stanhope wrote. "And he saw it coming and didn’t or couldn’t do anything to stop it."

It’s true that no one would think TMZ’s comment section is the place to look for feminist-friendly debate. But TMZ is also one of the biggest and most influential sites in the gossip industry. Its writers regularly break news — including the fact that Heard was seeking a restraining order — and their coverage sets the tone for the rest of the culture. If they suggest a woman is probably lying about domestic violence, that becomes the dominant narrative for a good long while afterward.

The gossip press’s response painted Heard as the villainous wife from Gone Girl

What emerges from this type of coverage is a narrative in which a young woman fabricates a story about domestic abuse and cynically manufactures several years’ worth of evidence to support it, which she then leaks slowly to the police and the public in a vicious attempt to slander her husband and steal all his money.

It’s a narrative in which it seems implausible that a woman who is frequently followed by paparazzi might have covered her bruises with makeup when she went out in public. No, she must have inflicted the bruises on herself just before she went to the police station.

In other words, this is a narrative in which people are more willing to believe that Gone Girl is a documentary than that Heard is telling the truth, and that her much older, richer, and more powerful husband abused her. We’re about five minutes away from someone suggesting that Heard killed Neil Patrick Harris mid-coitus — that’s how desperate some people are to ignore the fact that the evidence against Depp is extremely compelling.

The "Heard is lying" narrative is an extremely familiar one

It’s not really surprising that so many people think Heard is lying. That’s what usually happens when a woman accuses a powerful and beloved man of hurting her. But it’s telling that this narrative persists even after Heard went out of her way to knock it down.

Traditionally, when a woman accuses a famous man of hurting her, the responses are 1) there’s no proof, and 2) she’s just doing it for the money and the attention. It’s a ready-made narrative we return to over and over, so there are many versions of it, but here’s a nice clear example in National Report’s fervent defense of Bill Cosby:

Most of these depreciated old skanks will fabricate some ludicrous tale of sexual assault decades after they claim the incident(s) occurred. This way they can destroy reputations, smear an individual’s successful career, and in this case taint Cosby’s good name by rousting a bunch of dizzy unattractive lesbians [I am cutting this for length as the description of angry feminists goes on for quite a few lines] … though no evidence exists to support their fabricated malicious and destructive fictional accounts of abuse.

And in today’s digital age where any moron can claim anything they want and spread it across the Internet we’re already seeing the damning effects of groundless accusations. In spite of not having a single shred of evidence against Cosby, Netflix, NBC and TV Land have terminated future projects involving Cosby, or have removed Cosby entertainment from their programming. These inconsequential women well know the wreckage they can cause by making unsubstantiated and baseless allegations. They also know important luminaries who’ve earned their wealth and reputations through hard work, education, charitable works and living a moral life in the footsteps of Jesus will settle out of court to avoid enormous legal fees, courtroom drama and bad press.

This passage is the logical underpinning for comments like "she is a lying piece of poo" or "she is after the money." The woman is always after the money; she didn’t go to the cops when it happened; there’s no evidence; she’s just trying to destroy a good man’s life; and we know all this because it’s always what we say when a woman accuses a famous man of hurting her.

And we repeat the same story on a smaller scale when non-famous women accuse non-famous men of hurting them. We say these women are almost always liars, that they weren’t really hurt, that they’re just trying to destroy innocent men. Statistically, that’s almost never true, but we say it anyway.

Heard’s experience is a perfect example of how poorly we treat victims of domestic abuse

Here’s the thing: Heard did go to the cops when it happened. She went to the police with fresh, visible bruises on her face.

She did provide evidence. She provided photographs and witness testimony and text messages that back up her story.

She’s not after the money. She gave it all away.

She was, in every way, exactly the kind of victim we say women should be if they want us to believe them.

It didn’t matter. We still said she was lying.

Heard ultimately dropped the domestic violence charges and settled the divorce out of court. When TMZ reported that she would be donating her settlement money, the commenters reacted exactly the way you would expect by now:

Her lies are all around. She said she earned $10,000 a month but spent $50,000 so she needed alimony from JD to live her lifestyle, but now she's giving all this money to charity? Really??? Crazy and liar....

Our treatment of Heard proves that it doesn’t really matter how women act when they accuse men of hurting them. We don’t really care. We’ll find a way to call them liars no matter what they do.

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