Amber Heard announced on Monday that she’s made the “very difficult decision” to settle the defamation suit brought against her by ex-husband Johnny Depp, after a jury ruled in May that she must pay Depp $10 million. Heard initially appealed the case, but announced in a Monday Instagram post that she’s decided to just pay the man to avert another brutal and highly public trial.
“I cannot afford to risk an impossible bill—one that is not just financial, but also psychological, physical and emotional,” Heard wrote of her decision to settle. “Women shouldn’t have to face abuse or bankruptcy for speaking her truth, but unfortunately it is not uncommon.”
Depp sued Heard for a 2018 op ed in which Heard alluded to surviving domestic violence without naming Depp, two years after publicly accusing him of abuse. Prior to the U.S. jury’s ruling earlier this year, a judge in the U.K. ruled in 2020 that Depp had abused Heard.
In her Instagram post, Heard recounted the trauma of being publicly humiliated, vilified, and harassed throughout her weeks-long trial in April and May. “I defended my truth [and] in doing so my life as I knew it was destroyed. The vilification I have faced on social media is an amplified version of the ways women are re-victimised when they come forward,” she said.
Stating that she “simply cannot go through that for a third time,” Heard explained that she saw settling rather than going to trial again as “an opportunity to emancipate myself from something I attempted to leave over six years ago.” She continued, “I have made no admission. This is not an act of concession.”
“I will not be threatened, disheartened or dissuaded by what happened from speaking the truth,” Heard wrote. “No one can and no one will take that from me. My voice forever remains the most valuable asset I have.”
During the trial, Heard accused Depp of sexually assaulting and beating her, while Depp’s team brought on witnesses who claimed the relationship was mutually abusive and successfully convinced the primarily male jury of this. Domestic violence experts say that “mutual abuse” is a misleading, inaccurate term that falsely characterizes victims who fight back as abusive themselves.
In her Monday Instagram post, Heard also compared her trial in the U.S. with the trial in the U.K. that arose from Depp suing The Sun for calling him a “wife-beater” in 2018. In the U.K., Heard says she “was vindicated by a robust, impartial and fair system, where I was protected from having to give the worst moments of my testimony in front of the world’s media.” She wrote that in the U.S., by contrast, she “exhausted almost all my resources in advance of and during a trial” where key evidence in her favor was blocked, and “popularity and power mattered more than reason and due process.”
Heard said her U.S. trial “exposed” her “to a type of humiliation that I simply cannot re-live,” and convinced her that the U.S. legal process is “unable to protect me and my right to free speech.”
At the time of the U.S. trial, some of Heard’s supporters questioned the competency of her legal and public relations teams. But for her appeal, Heard acquired new legal representation from a firm specializing in constitutional law, and appeared positioned to launch a strong argument for how Depp’s suit violated her right to free speech and broadly threatened survivors’ free speech rights. In her appeal, Heard’s new lawyers also made the case for why the trial’s setting in Virginia didn’t make sense and actively harmed Heard by prohibiting her from subpoenaing key witnesses to testify on her behalf. (Depp’s attorney Camille Vasquez claimed Heard’s lack of witnesses during the trial showed “this is a woman who burns bridges; her close friends don’t show up for her.”)
Unsealed court documents from Heard and Depp’s U.S. trial that became public in August comprised another source of promise for Heard’s appeal. The documents exposed Depp’s legal team’s original plan to use nude photos of Heard against her, as well as notes from the couple’s therapist that called Heard a victim of “intimate partner violence.” The documents also confirmed that photos and audio submitted by Depp had been manipulated, and quoted texts from Depp and his assistant that all but confirmed Heard’s allegation that he’d kicked and beat her in front of his staff on a private plane in 2014.
In other words, there was a strong case for Heard’s appeal—but per Heard’s Instagram post, she would rather pay $10 million than relive the trauma of the trial earlier this year and face even more public scrutiny and additional expenses. It’s an understandable decision in a society where the punishment and costs of surviving intimate partner violence—especially publicly—are so steep.
Many survivors and experts have pointed out that Depp’s suit against Heard reflects a common tactic deployed by abusers, regardless of whether they’re especially wealthy and famous. Defamation suits against women who report sexual assault are common on college campuses as a means to silence survivors by threatening to bankrupt them. One study found rape costs victims more than any other crime, with total estimated costs reaching $127 billion per year.
Survivors and their supporters are also silenced by aggressive harassment campaigns, much like the online behavior we witnessed from Depp’s legions of fans on social media. As a result of the defamation trial’s outcome, Depp, whose career had waned in recent years, emerged as a national hero. So it goes.