For all its salacious details and shocking moments, Depp v. Heard is not all that surprising—at least not for a guy like me. What a jury found to be rotten in Fairfax County has plagued civil and family courtrooms for some time. How do I know this? I, like Johnny Depp, had to prove heinous allegations made against me, by my ex-wife, which surfaced in the context of our divorce, were false.
Those who continue to deny the prevalence of false abuse allegations are servants to a lie. It’s such a common—and ruthlessly effective—way for litigants to gain legal leverage in domestic disputes, family law attorneys commonly refer to abuse allegations as “the silver bullet.” Truth be damned.
The Depp trial revealed how insidious this problem has become as it’s shrouded in murky identity politics. Social activism cannot—and should not—determine the veracity of an allegation. Yet slogans like “believe women” permeate our cultural discourse. Johnny Depp, like other disbelieved men, faced the wrath of that discourse when he denied Amber Heard’s domestic violence and sexual assault accusations.
Specific to Depp’s case-in-chief, Depp (and his legal team) challenged Amber Heard’s op-ed, which defamed Depp as abusive. Published in The Washington Post on December 18, 2018, the timing of that op-ed was just as damaging as its words—for Depp and every other wrongfully accused man.
Consider the historical context: a year into the #MeToo movement, more extreme interpretations of the hashtag (e.g., #BelieveAllWomen) had begun trending. Due process was becoming an afterthought for men publicly accused of sexual misgivings as they were shamed online and then raked over the headlines and news cycles. Words like “toxic” and “masculinity” were paired together like “tar” and “feathering”.
Media outlets trumpeted it as an explosive moment for “gender equality” but, as someone who had also been accused of sexual misconduct in December 2019, I had the unfortunate vantage point to see just how far the blast radius extended. It went well beyond Hollywood celebrities and Supreme Court nominees.
In my case, the court of public opinion exerted its pernicious influence writ small. I remember December 2019 as a gloomy holiday season for me, but not because radio stations were canceling the festive duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” over concerns the lyrics promoted date rape. Instead, it was because I wouldn’t get to watch my 5-year-old daughter open her gifts on Christmas morning because my ex-wife had obtained a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) that accused me of sexual abuse.
There was no evidence to support these allegations but, unlike a criminal trial, TRO hearings have a much lower burden of proof. So much so that my ex-wife—like Amber Heard—was granted the order ex parte, meaning the other party is not even present at the hearing.
In that way, a TRO hearing is not unlike how mainstream media and the Twitterverse were deciding the fate of accused men. Too many men had their careers, reputations, and families destroyed because of false allegations. Men presumed guilty solely because they were on the wrong side of woke.
Will Depp’s win in Court change that? America’s favorite pirate may have hijacked the cultural narrative. The live-stream from Judge Azcarate’s courtroom let the world see the facts, which shifted public opinion in Depp’s favor. The jury, too, considered the facts and decided in Depp’s favor.
Likewise, when I got my day in Court, and the facts were presented, I prevailed. Follow the facts; arrive at the truth. Sounds so simple, obvious. And so: how did we ever lose sight of that? Why have media outlets and civil courtrooms become a no man’s land, full of vitriol and distrust toward men and fathers? It’s a question many men—like me—have wondered. And they are questions I hope do not haunt our sons.
That’s why, today, I salute Johnny Depp.