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The Depp-Heard trial is bringing attention to intimate partner violence


Actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard ended their marriage in 2018, but their story didn't end there. Heard said in a newspaper column that she was a victim of domestic abuse. That led Depp to sue her for defamation. Heard is countersuing. The trial has been playing out in a Virginia courtroom. The court of public opinion, so far, seems to be weighing in favor of the bigger star, Johnny Depp. But domestic violence experts say this is a complex case.

Kellie Lynch researches intimate partner violence and domestic violence at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Welcome.

KELLIE LYNCH: Thank you for having me.

FLORIDO: What so far has caught your attention in what's been said in the courtroom?

LYNCH: So one thing that's caught my attention, and it seems to be being picked up a lot, is this idea of throwing around terms of abuse and abusers versus violence. And that plays into our idea that there is a real abuser or a real victim and a real perpetrator in this relationship. But it's just that's - violence we think of as intentional harm toward the other. That may or may not be abusive. There might be bidirectional violence or they're both violent towards one another. That doesn't mean the same thing as mutual abuse.

FLORIDO: You mentioned bidirectional violence. What do you mean by that?

LYNCH: Why it's important to maybe use that term and not necessarily mutual abuse is that just because someone might be violent towards the other person in the relationship doesn't mean that they were necessarily the primary abuser or aggressor. And an example of why that might occur - if someone who was physically violent towards their abuser in self-defense or if they were triggered by something, the abuse that occurred in the relationship - so there are reasons why someone might be physically violent, but not necessarily an abuser in the relationship. And it's why it's important to - until you maybe necessarily know the full dynamics of something, definitely not to use the term mutual abuse.

FLORIDO: Worth noting, perhaps, that a British court found overwhelming evidence that Johnny Depp may have abused Amber Heard.

LYNCH: What's interesting to me in this trial is seeing the level of support behind Johnny Depp right now, when not that long ago it was kind of - seemed to be the other direction in the libel suit in the U.K., that the judge found evidence for the incidents that Amber Heard alleged that he abused her. So I think it's important for people to keep in mind there is a history here of at least some burden of proof that she has some legitimate side to this story.

These trials are also odd because we're talking about domestic violence. We're talking about something we typically see in criminal court. We don't usually see it being played out in these big civil suits, and especially, too, no one's actually suing someone for abuse. They're suing - you know, these are defamation suits. So we're talking about a criminal and public health problem of abuse and domestic violence. But these are civil suits for defamation.

FLORIDO: We see in so many of these high-profile trials likeability being such an important factor. Is there pressure for both her and Depp to be liked in this trial? And how do you think that that pressure looks different for each of them?

LYNCH: Yes, I'm sure there's enormous pressure to be liked. And there's financial reasons, and that seems to be, you know, Johnny Depp's lawsuit. And of course, he's also seeking to clear his name and things like that. But obviously, at the crux of all of this or with this specific trial is that this has hindered his career and his earnings in a substantial way. So I think there is absolutely pressure for both, as public figures, to be liked.

However, any time, regardless of if you take abuse or domestic violence out of this, any time you have men versus women, you might see double standards. You might see biases. You're going to see, definitely, differences in how behavior is interpreted.

FLORIDO: We've been speaking with Kellie Lynch, associate professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Thank you.

LYNCH: Thank you for having me.

FLORIDO: If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, you can reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.
Ayen Deng Bior is a producer at NPR's flagship evening news program, All Things Considered. She helps shape the sound of the daily shows by contributing story ideas, writing scripts and cutting tape. Her work at NPR has taken her to Warsaw, Poland, where she heard from refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. She has spoken to people in Saint-Louis, Senegal, who are grappling with rising seas. Before NPR, Bior wore many hats at the Voice of America's English to Africa service where she worked in radio, television and digital. Bior began her career reporting on the revolution in Sudan, the developing state of affairs in South Sudan and the experiences of women behind the headlines in both countries. In her spare time, Bior loves to kayak, read and bird watch.
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.