Society ignores victims and glorifies abusers

Zoe Leone, Associate Arts & Life Editor

On May 16, the 76th annual Cannes Film Festival will kick off in Cannes, France. One of the first films to premiere is French director Maïwenn’s “Jeanne du Barry,” a historical drama that follows King Louis XV. The most notable thing about the movie, however, is that it stars Johnny Depp.

Casting an alleged abuser as the lead in a highly-anticipated movie that’s headlining an international film festival does nothing but encourage survivors into silence. It’s a Hollywood tale that’s as old as time: get accused, release a statement and wait for the tabloids to stop publishing stories on you to make your next movie.

It’s a common claim that cancel culture ruins careers. While I find it appalling that people would even consider demanding that alleged abusers to not have their faces on movie posters ‘canceling’ them, patterns have also shown that this is simply not true. Celebrities like Woody Allen (his daughter, Dylan Farrow, accused him of molesting her in 1992), Morgan Freeman (eight women accused him of harassment and inappropriate behavior in 2018, according to CNN) and now Depp, have continued to enjoy successful careers and adoration from the public since being accused.

This is Depp’s first film since the infamous defamation trial between him and his ex-wife, Amber Heard, in 2022. The case involved Depp suing Heard for an op-ed she wrote for the Washington Post in 2018 about surviving domestic violence. While Heard never mentioned Depp by name in the op-ed, the jury sided with him.

In the defamation case, anything Heard did only seemed to prove to the millions of online observers that she was lying. None of the evidence against Depp, documented both in court and by dedicated Heard supporters who published public documents used in court, seemed to matter. The case spread like a wildfire and suddenly an abuse survivor’s testimony was being used as a popular lip-sync audio on TikTok.

According to a report from Brown University, the percentage of false reports of assault ranges from 2% to 10%. This number has been consistent for decades now, as found in the same report. And yet on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by a partner in this country. This equates to an average of ten million men and women a year who are survivors of intimate partner violence, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Only two out of every 100 cases is classified as including insufficient evidence or testimony to the degree that it might be false, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. And that’s out of the 37% of abuse cases that actually are reported. The vast majority will never once reach the court systems or even a police report.

So with numbers this big, why do people refuse to believe victims?

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that intimate partner violence is largely a very gendered issue. According to the NCADV, one-quarter of women are victims of severe intimate partner violence, intimate partner sexual contact violence and/or intimate partner stalking with impact, compared to one in nine men.

In the U.S., the Department of Justice estimates that 95% of reported cases of domestic violence are committed by men against women.

While there is no denying that men are affected by intimate partner violence, I can’t help but wonder if the fact that so many people see this as a women’s issue skews the narrative. And in the case of celebrities like Depp and Heard, the affection people hold for their favorite celebrities clearly clouds their ability to empathize with victims.

In a more recent, yet just as chilling case, actor Jonathan Majors was arrested on charges of strangulation, assault and harassment on March 25, according to AP News.

The woman involved was initially taken to the hospital with concerns about an “emotional crisis,” but was later confirmed to have suffered lacerations and injuries on her face. When a popular pop culture updates account on Twitter posted a statement from Majors’ lawyer, the comments quickly filled with users proclaiming their support and arguing his innocence.

Several days later, his lawyer shared alleged texts between Majors and the victim with TMZ that were meant to further prove his innocence. The texts featured the victim taking the blame for the situation, claiming that it was her fault for trying to grab his phone.

While this seems like a display of the common trauma response known as fawning — where a person attempts to appease an abuser with people-pleasing behaviors to avoid further conflict, according to Caroline Fenkel, leader in adolescent mental healthcare — people still showed their support for Majors.

We live in a society where women’s stories are largely brushed under the rug. The assaults and violence that Harvey Weinstein enacted on over 85 women in Hollywood was an open secret that was whispered about until 2017. It is not shocking that the men that commit these acts are protected.

Perhaps we’re trained through the gender roles we subconsciously learn that this is the way the world works. Even if we are not brought up in households where we necessarily observe these, experience in the world enforces the idea that women are supposed to be passive and non-confrontational, while men are supposed to be, for lack of a better term, ‘the man.’

And yet for some, maybe hearing about a survivor’s suffering endured at the hands of someone we once admired is simply too uncomfortable to deal with. All denial does is further alienate victims and continue the cycle of abuse. Survivors, regardless of gender, deserve a society where their stories are met with understanding, not vitriol.

So the next time a case comes to light — and unfortunately, there is always a next time — afford the survivor the grace to be believed. At the end of the day, what’s more important: having believed a potential liar or supporting a possible abuser?