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Opinion: Beyond Amber Heard: When women speak up

"Ask yourself: Why should women be afraid of coming forward? Why are women receiving death threats? Why are women used as a punchline after disclosing a violent rape?"
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"I hope that we can work towards a future where women are believed when disclosing male violence instead of being punished," says Ayla Cir'ce Sullivan of the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter in response to the recent high-profile Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial.

As women, we continue to fight for our lives, safety, bodily autonomy, and the use of our voices to speak up about the male violence we have experienced. The act of publicly naming our attackers is a way for us to be heard, validated, warn other women, and hold men accountable for the violence they have committed against us. But women who dare to use their voices to speak out against their attacker are under constant scrutiny and often face significant backlash.

Women who share about being attacked on social media, even without naming their attacker in full, are threatened with cease-and-desist letters and a threat of defamation lawsuit. From our front-line work, we know that this tactic is used effectively by abusive men to silence women.

Ordinary women do not have the financial means to sue men for damages or to pay for legal defence in a defamation lawsuit.

Cases that are highly publicized, such as the legal fight between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, have turned domestic violence and hatred for women into entertainment with many taking on the classic sexist position that the man in power is credible and the woman is hysterical, vindictive and lying about the violence she has experienced.

Victim-blaming is a common misogynist tactic when it comes to violence against women. It allows the acquittal of violent men in criminal cases, and rulings that favor them in family law court and civil trials.

Ignorance about why women stay in battering relationships was also used in Amber Heard case. Rhetorical questions such as ‘If she was scared to death, why didn’t she leave?' disregard the economic, social and psychological obstacles that hold women hostage in the relationship. We know from 40 years of working with battered women that it can take many times to leave an abusive male partner for good. Women stay in violent relationships because of children, lack of financial means, threats of publishing “revenge porn,” and the threat of the violence worsening as men often escalate their violence when women try to leave to the point of murder.

The fear I have as a woman in the world, as well as an advocate, is that women and girls are being told that confronting your attacker and speaking publicly will result in the protection of violent men. Ask yourself: Why should women be afraid of coming forward? Why are women receiving death threats? Why are women used as a punchline after disclosing a violent rape?

Most importantly, why is a man being praised and protected for his publicly disclosed misogyny and sexually violent murder fantasies about Heard?

I hope that we can work towards a future where women are believed when disclosing male violence instead of being punished. And as an advocate, who listens to hundreds of women’s stories each year, change can’t come soon enough.

Ayla Cir'ce Sullivan is a Collective Member of the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter