Anita Anand | Depp-Heard saga: Intimate Partner Violence extracts a very high price

While both men and women can be victims of IPV, women are more likely to sustain serious injuries and be killed by men

On June 1, in the United States, a jury in a civil defamation case involving actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard ruled largely in favour of Depp. The case centred around Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), which affects millions of Americans every year. According to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in four women and nearly one in 10 men have experienced some form of sexual or physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime. While both men and women can be victims of IPV, women are
more likely to sustain serious injuries and be killed by men.

What exactly is IPV? The World Health Organisation defines it as behaviour by an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual or psychological harm, including physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.

While some IPV will be unidirectional, meaning only one partner inflicts violence on the other, the jury of the Depp versus Heard trial heard evidence that each had been violent towards the other during their relationship, behaviour described as bi-directional violence. This is when a person reports both perpetrating and being the victim of violence and is quite common in certain cases of IPV.

Allegations of violence and substance use on both sides during the Depp-Heard trial painted a troubling picture of what occurred in their relationship.

According to public sources, Depp and Heard dated from 2011-2015 and then married.

Within a year, Heard filed for divorce, alleging abuse in the marriage. Heard then spoke out about the abuse, without naming Depp, in an opinion piece in the Washington Post in the early days of the #MeToo movement, in 2018. Depp filed a defamation case against Heard, who then filed a counter-case against him.

How did it come to this? The Depp-Heard case is an opportunity to introspect on the issues around IPV, should we choose to. After the first flush of excitement of attraction and love, two people begin to experience each other as they really are and not as they saw each other, in the beginning of their romance. Insecurity, ego, lack of trust begins to creep into the relationship, almost all at the emotional level.

Catherine Cerulli, director of both the University of Rochester’s Susan B. Anthony Centre and the Laboratory of Interpersonal Violence and Victimisation, says: “As the level of severity increases toward physical and sexual violence, it’s almost always accompanied or preceded by emotional abuse, where the abuser tries to control the victim’s time and resources.”

It could be tracking each other’s movements, how money is made and spent, and what social networks the partner initiates or continues in. Financial control is a major factor between partners.

Where do we get our notions of love and togetherness? It starts in the family with parents as role models, who themselves are not able to or competent in recognising or understanding their emotions. Demands of making a livelihood, maintaining relationships with extended families, children, expenses and aspirations, mount. Children, if there are any, are witness to all the kinds of abuse -- arguments, shouting, fighting, punching, sulking.

And worst of all, withholding love.

Globally, a WHO study cites that one in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year, and 90 per cent of these children are eyewitnesses to such violence. When these children become adults, they tend to repeat these behaviours, unless they have chosen to change, consciously and with therapeutic help.

In the last 30 years, globally, women’s movements brought the issue of violence against women to national and international forums, linking the disempowerment of women to the physical and emotional violence faced in their homes, work and public places, and the toll it took on them. Since then, there is awareness and efforts made to redress the violence.

However, most of these focused on post-violence strategies such as laws on punishing the perpetrators of domestic violence, setting up half houses for women and children and hotlines to report the violence, among others. And at the same time, IPV remained a significant problem for men, who were left without the same resources as women and faced stigma when seeking help.

Naturally, men are seen as perpetrators of violence against women, and in the backdrop of patriarchy and male domination, this is correct. However, once this has been seen as the cause of the violence, how then do we address it? How do we raise boys and men to be emotionally secure?

Efforts at prevention have received less attention. Prevention would mean admitting that Emotional Intelligence -- the ability to understand, use and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathise with others, overcome challenges and diffuse conflict -- is essential for our well-being. And this training is for all as required curricula in schools, institutions of higher learning, workplaces and for other stakeholders. It would start in the family and be in all spheres of our lives.

Given that neither patriarchy or male domination cannot be waved away by a magic wand, we must recognise that men too lose out and are losing out in a patriarchal world. Is Depp’s victory much to celebrate with what we have learned about him during this trial? I doubt it. Very much.

A 2018 study cited in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine shows that the lifetime economic cost of intimate partner violence to the US population is $3.6 trillion. It’s a very high price to pay.

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