The call came Thursday, only a day after the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard verdict, to a free legal clinic for domestic violence victims in Athens, Georgia. The woman wanted to pursue her abuse claims, but she was worried.

“The fear was that she’d be seen to be a liar like Amber Heard,” clinic director Christine Scartz said of the woman – the first caller to directly mention the verdict. “People do not want to give the most intimate details of their personal life and then be called a liar.”

Scartz is among advocates and legal experts who fear that the case – unique as it was for its celebrity lineup, sordid revelations, mutual claims of abuse, and relentless misogyny on social media – will have a real-world chilling effect on women coming forward with abuse claims. The jury, with five men and two women, mostly sided with Depp in the dueling defamation case, ordering Heard to pay him $10 million to the $2 million he must give her.

Although jurors were considering civil libel claims and not criminal abuse charges, the verdict largely vindicated Depp’s allegations that Heard lied about abusing her. During testimony, Heard detailed dozens of instances of assault, and Depp emphatically denied ever abusing her. In 2020, a U.K. judge in a civil libel case found that Depp assaulted Heard on a dozen occasions.

For Scartz, who directs the clinic at the University of Georgia’s law school, the concern is about the assumptions some will make that women are lying. She fears abusers may be newly emboldened to paint their accusers as liars in retaliation for them coming forward.

Not all experts fear a chilling effect or, as some have framed it, a threat to the #MeToo movement. Debra Katz, a Washington employment attorney and perhaps the nation’s most prominent #MeToo lawyer, said the Depp case was one of a kind, “a thing of itself – who these people were, and the dysfunction in their marriage and the craziness that took place between them. And this was really driven by celebrity.”

Still, Katz, who has represented accusers of Brett Kavanaugh, Andrew Cuomo and others, considers the case a setback, because it “unfortunately taps into misogyny that already exists, and it’s terrible that Amber Heard was put through the kind of character assassination, the smear job that she was put through.”

During the trial, users of TikTok and Twitter vilified Heard in memes and videos, some using court footage. The social media content, viewed billions of times, blasted her as a liar, an abuser, and a “fake” crier. #AmberIsALiar and other hashtags became popular search terms.

TikTok has tallied nearly 20 billion views for the hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp, compared with some 78 million for #JusticeForAmberHeard. That amounts to more than 250 posts supporting Depp for each one supporting Heard.

What’s clear, Katz said, is “there is still misogyny, deep misogyny in the world, and it still pervades our justice system.” However, she said, one shouldn’t assume women won’t come forward in other cases.



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