Gloria Steinem and a wide range of feminist and women’s rights organizations signed a letter this week in support of Amber Heard amid ongoing online harassment following the defamation trial between Heard and her ex-husband Johnny Depp.
“Much of this harassment was fueled by disinformation, misogyny, biphobia, and a monetized social media environment where a woman’s allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault were mocked for entertainment,” the letter, which was shared publicly on Wednesday, read. “The same disinformation and victim-blaming tropes are now being used against others who have alleged abuse.”
Among the groups to sign the letter are the National Organization for Women, Esparanza United, Women’s March Foundation, the Asian Feminist, the Sexual Violence Prevention Assn. and Steinem’s Ms. magazine. Others who signed include a long list of experts on intimate partner violence, as well as actor Constance Wu, who in September shared that an unnamed producer had sexually harassed her on the set of her TV sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat.”
The letter expressed concern around the Depp vs. Heard verdict and the conversations since, which show “a fundamental misunderstanding of intimate partner and sexual violence and how survivors respond to it.”
“We have grave concerns about the rising misuse of defamation suits to threaten and silence survivors,” the letter read.
The contentious and highly publicized six-week libel trial held in Virginia ended in June with a jury awarding Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages after finding that Heard defamed the “Pirates of the Caribbean” superstar. She was awarded $2 million in her countersuit.
The case stemmed from a 2018 Washington Post op-ed Heard wrote in which she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse.” The op-ed did not mention Depp by name but was published around the time Heard first alleged Depp had abused her.
Depp contended that his reputation and career were devastated by Heard’s earlier accusations in 2016 and that the op-ed led to him suffering a new round of financial losses and “public scorn,” including being dropped from his iconic role as Capt. Jack Sparrow in Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise.
Heard had called the verdict disappointing and a setback for victims of abuse. In July, she filed her appeal of the verdict.
Though Heard received some support on social media during the trial, she also received a wave of severe backlash.
Bot Sentinel, a research firm hired by Heard’s legal team in 2020, conducted independent research of Twitter activity around Heard following the June verdict. In a report, the firm said it found that some Twitter accounts had manipulated conversations and trends “while targeting and abusing women to suppress any positive tweets supporting Amber Heard.”
The report called the operation “one of the worst cases of cyberbullying and cyberstalking by a group of Twitter accounts” ever seen by the firm.
Heard’s sister Whitney Henriquez, who testified during the trial and alleged being hit by Depp, was encouraged by the open letter. Henriquez shared in an Instagram post on Wednesday that since the verdict, she has faced misogynistic harassment online, around which she has had a hard time raising her two children.
“Seeing this letter signed by over 130 experts and organizations now was a much needed breath of fresh air,” Henriquez wrote. “Finally, the tides are shifting.”