Voices: Depp and Heard won’t hear your view of the trial verdict – but your friends who are silent victims will

·5-min read
Silence is golden in survival (AP)
Silence is golden in survival (AP)

When a woman is abused by a man in her life she will be told a combination of the following threats by her perpetrator: no one will believe you, it’ll be your word against mine, if you speak up they will take the children away, if you tell anyone I will have you deported, the police won’t help you, you’ll lose your job if you tell, people don’t want this trouble.

To you and I, they may sound like hyperbole or obvious empty threats that should be ignored. But to an abused woman they sound like the truth, not only because of the careful grooming that they have been subjected to – but instead because every single abuse victim has suffered at the hands of the state or authority colluding with their perpetrator to make them true.

Every single day, women do lose their children in family courts, women are often detained or deported when an abusive partner shops them in, women are more often than not disbelieved – they lose their jobs for speaking up about their abusive boss, or when they need to take time to go to court or find a new home. The police, much more often than not, find that in the battle of his word against hers – his word wins.

Politicians all around the world can stand in front of new ad campaigns about male violence against women professing “enough is enough” and #haveaword as much as they like, but it is just another meaningless slogan that leads to nothing unless they start to undermine each of these very real threats. This is the work they rarely bother to do.

This week, hundreds of thousands of women suffering abuse and violence in the UK will have watched the trial of Amber Heard and Johnny Depp in the US and all of the coordinated social media memes about it and will know that people may laugh and mock their abuse – should they ever speak up. I myself have drawn the line about writing about abuses I have suffered because how would I prove it if I was sued? My history is not mine.

Every single time a woman or man in Westminster comes forward about the case of a gropey MP do you think that those very same men don’t lawyer-up immediately? Every newspaper in the country will have received cease and desist letters from the lawyer of an abusive celebrity. The people they abuse – because it is all about power and control – don’t have the same resource to get fancy lawyers.

Silence is golden in survival. It is hard enough for a Westminster staffer on £25k p.a to step forward, lose their job, end their political career without the threat of being sued hanging over them. Most won’t bother.

“Why don’t they go to the police if they have been abused?” I hear you cry. Well, the number of victims that actually do this is infinitesimal compared to the whole and the reason is that very often there is no proof for their abuse, or at least not enough to even have a chance at a charge. The less than 2 per cent of rape allegations shared with the police that lead to a charge is not something that victims can ignore. I am dealing with a victim of multiple rape at the moment and she has been convinced by her perpetrator that she will be arrested and charged for lying to the police if she cannot prove her years of abuse. The threat works because it happens.

Police all over the country are working hard to try to build back trust of women after two years of the most grotesque stories of failure that culminated in the trial of Sarah Everard’s killer Wayne Couzens – a police officer. I am not of the school of thought that slagging off the police is helpful to victims, I work with the police and seek to help them improve their standing in the eyes of victims.

It would be better for victims if they trusted the police and felt they could come forward. So, this week’s news that the Met (who are currently doing no favours to good forces desperate to improve) have decided to take some of those at the Sarah Everard vigil to court for breaching Covid guidelines is a blow.

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I just cannot for the life of me see how they think this helps their cause in improving trust in confidence in their force. These people – along with thousands of others, including royalty – attended a vigil for a dead woman murdered by a police officer and are now facing action from the Met.

What is the thinking behind this corporate decision? The same force have taken the organisers of the vigil to court and failed in their attempts. How do they think this looks to the women watching on – and where is the public value in doing it?

It appears to me unless something comes out in the trial that we don’t know about about (like... if these vigil goers were purposefully sneezing on the public?) then there is a far greater downside to this move than there is upside. It sends a message to those very same women and men currently being abused about how the police feel about them.

Abused women are watching while all this goes on. They are learning that their silence is the safest option. This is harrowing enough but it is the perpetrators watching that worries me more. They could be putting some shiny new tools in to their kit, ready for action.

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