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Scores of feminist individuals and organizations signed a letter of support for actress Amber Heard. (Credit: Flickr user Greg2600, Wikimedia Commons)

Women’s rights activists lashed out at the “vilification” and ongoing online harassment of Amber Heard, five months after a highly publicized defamation trial between the actress and her ex-husband, Johnny Depp. 

“We condemn the public shaming of Amber Heard and join in support of her,” the National Organization for Women, Equality Now, feminist Gloria Steinem and others wrote in an open letter released this week.

The letter, published a week after Depp made a controversial appearance in Rihanna’s “Savage x Fenty Vol. 4” fashion show, offers unequivocal support for Heard – who was ordered by a judge to pay damages to Depp – and denounces the “rising misuse” of defamation suits to threaten and silence those who report domestic abuse. 

“We support the ability of all to report intimate partner and sexual violence free of harassment and intimidation,” the letter reads. 

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In all, over 130 organizations and individuals signed the letter, which also serves as a rebuke of those among Depp’s supporters who made light of Heard and belittled those who believe her – behavior that authors say is “unprecedented in both vitriol and scale.” The letter writers called the harassment “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.”

Heard’s allegations were more implication than anything prior to this year’s trial. Court proceedings began when Depp brought his suit against Heard in response to a 2018 op-ed published in The Washington Post in which she referred to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.” Heard’s countersuit was filed shortly after.

The trial itself became something of a press circus, with coverage extending far beyond celebrity gossip outlets and into mainstream media. Intimate details were widely reported upon, then mocked – even, at one point, by NBC’s Saturday Night Live. In June, both Heard and Depp were found liable – though Heard was ordered to pay $15 million in damages, while Depp was only ordered to pay $2 million. 

Both during the trial and after, Heard was the subject of widespread derision and ridicule on social media. Those who used their platforms to offer Heard support have reported facing harassment themselves for doing so. 

The groups and people behind the open letter say that behavior comes with damaging ripple effects for abuse victims and survivors, as it points to “a fundamental misunderstanding of intimate partner and sexual violence and how survivors respond to it.”

It also indicates a “growing backlash” against women who speak out against their abusers, Kathy Spillar, the executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, told NBC. “If this can happen to Amber Heard, it will discourage other women from speaking up and even filing reports about domestic violence and sexual assault.”

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