Amber Heard: I Spoke Up Against Sexual Violence and Faced Our Culture's Wrath

This piece was originally published in The Washington Post.

I was exposed to abuse at a very young age. I knew certain things early on, without ever having to be told. I knew that men have the power — physically, socially and financially — and that a lot of institutions support that arrangement. I knew this long before I had the words to articulate it, and I bet you learned it young, too.

Like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age. But I kept quiet — I did not expect filing complaints to bring justice. And I didn’t see myself as a victim.

Then two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.

Friends and advisers told me I would never again work as an actress — that I would be blacklisted. A movie I was attached to recast my role. I had just shot a two-year campaign as the face of a global fashion brand, and the company dropped me. Questions arose as to whether I would be able to keep my role of Mera in the movies “Justice League” and “Aquaman.”

I had the rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.

Imagine a powerful man as a ship, like the Titanic. That ship is a huge enterprise. When it strikes an iceberg, there are a lot of people on board desperate to patch up holes — not because they believe in or even care about the ship, but because their own fates depend on the enterprise.

In recent years, the #MeToo movement has taught us about how power like this works, not just in Hollywood but in all kinds of institutions — workplaces, places of worship or simply in particular communities. In every walk of life, women are confronting these men who are buoyed by social, economic and cultural power. And these institutions are beginning to change.

We are in a transformative political moment. The president of our country has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct, including assault and harassment. Outrage over his statements and behavior has energized a female-led opposition. #MeToo started a conversation about just how profoundly sexual violence affects women in every area of our lives. And last month, more women were elected to Congress than ever in our history, with a mandate to take women’s issues seriously. Women’s rage and determination to end sexual violence are turning into a political force.

We have an opening now to bolster and build institutions protective of women. For starters, Congress can reauthorize and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act. First passed in 1994, the act is one of the most effective pieces of legislation enacted to fight domestic violence and sexual assault. It creates support systems for people who report abuse, and provides funding for rape crisis centers, legal assistance programs and other critical services. It improves responses by law enforcement, and it prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ survivors. Funding for the act expired in September and has only been temporarily extended.

We should continue to fight sexual assault on college campuses, while simultaneously insisting on fair processes for adjudicating complaints. Last month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos proposed changes to Title IX rules governing the treatment of sexual harassment and assault in schools. While some changes would make the process for handling complaints more fair, others would weaken protections for sexual assault survivors. For example, the new rules would require schools to investigate only the most extreme complaints, and then only when they are made to designated officials. Women on campuses already have trouble coming forward about sexual violence — why would we allow institutions to scale back supports?

I write this as a woman who had to change my phone number weekly because I was getting death threats. For months, I rarely left my apartment, and when I did, I was pursued by camera drones and photographers on foot, on motorcycles and in cars. Tabloid outlets that posted pictures of me spun them in a negative light. I felt as though I was on trial in the court of public opinion — and my life and livelihood depended on myriad judgments far beyond my control.

I want to ensure that women who come forward to talk about violence receive more support. We are electing representatives who know how deeply we care about these issues. We can work together to demand changes to laws and rules and social norms — and to right the imbalances that have shaped our lives.

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Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

Isn't she the one that took Johnny Depp to the cleaners?

Mary L. Glaviano

I believe you, Amber.

Anonymous

Thank you.

Cynthia Thurber

Amber Heard may have suffered a backlash of criticism from people after the breakup of her marriage to Johnny Depp but I believe her victimization is used as a tool to boost her career. Most peopIe have been fed a lot of news about their relationship that is untrue. I have read a great deal about them. Johnny Depp did not hit her or throw anything at her. If you had done your homework you would have read all the different stories and learned this. She did not have any bruises when the police came. The next day after being 3 1/2 hours late to her deposition, she had bruises. She never had the deposition. She settled. This speaks volumes. I am a feminist. I have friends that suffered horrible physical and mental abuse in their lives that did not become poster children for the ACLU and women's issues. I would speak up in support of any woman who I believed was abused. But not AH. I'm surprised that the ACLU is using her as an example. Her only real talent is being sexy which she uses at any opportunity she can for money and fame. She is building a career on it. Most people do not know who she is. There are many other women who deserve to be out in front supported by the ACLU who have been victims. I have not supported the ACLU financially because I am a senior who lives on a small SS check. I am however a supporter. And I realize how hard ACLU is working to rid of the scourge in DC. But using Amber Heard as an example of abuse is sensationalizing a very very serious issue.

Anonymous

You call yourself a feminist but not one word in your comment supports that statement. In case you didn't read the article, she has NOT seen a career boost due to the situation with Johnny Depp, just the contrary. Her bravery in the face of this makes you look like a whiny, entitled conservative misogynist. Read the article before jumping to the defense of abusers like Depp.

Anonymous

Well Cynthia, how long do you think it takes for bruises to show up? Guess anatomy isn't your strong suit. What speaks volumes is that you know next to nothing amount the intracacies of this case yet you choose to comment on it like you're the detective running the case.

Beatrice

How do you define a feminist? You just backstabbed a woman you don't know, and claim to know the truth from reading a lot of tabloids.... really? Look in your heart- who are you to judge? And did you know that broken ribs show up best on x-ray two weeks after the trauma? Please educate yourself, and not from gossip media. Thanks.

Anonymous

"Read the article before jumping to the defense of abusers like Depp."
Read more in general before jumping to the defense of abusers like Heard.

Anonymous

I hope y'all feel good about yourselves now that she was proven guilty

Mali Azoulay

Hi Cynthia, I very much agree with you about the lack of credibility seen here . It is repulsive how the so called supporters of AH immediately jump to discredit valid observations by trying to discredit you as a person. Which only reinforces the notion of manipulation, insincerity and hypocrisy. AH is using the activist platform to gain relevance but is also being used by the same activists who want political power. No phony activism/PR will ever succeed in covering lies. No blind ideology will ever make the world a better place. There are still real people out there. Amber Heard should concentrate on setting her personal life straight, before trying to teach others how to fix the world.

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