More than 130 people, including Gloria Steinem, and organizations involved in women’s rights advocacy, domestic violence and sexual assault awareness, have signed an open letter in support of Amber Heard, who lost a defamation suit brought by her ex-husband, Johnny Depp, this year for an op-ed in which she said she was a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”
The letter, which was shared with NBC News first, was signed by organizations such as the National Organization for Women, the National Women’s Law Center, Equality Now, and the Women’s March Foundation. It was written by a group of people who identify as survivors of domestic violence and supporters of Heard.
Heard filed a brief last month laying the groundwork for an appeal of a seven-person jury’s decision in June to award Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages in Virginia’s Fairfax County Circuit Court. Heard, who had countersued, received $2 million in compensatory damages but no punitive damages.
Although the Washington Post essay never mentioned Depp by name, Depp’s lawyers said it alluded to allegations made against him during their 2016 divorce. During the trial, she testified in graphic detail about a sexual assault she claimed to have experienced, as well as allegations of physical abuse. Depp denied all abuse allegations.
The letter, which condemns the “rising misuse” of defamation lawsuits to silence people who report domestic and sexual abuse, is one of the most public displays of support for Heard in the months since the verdict.
The verdict was a legal victory for Depp, who had previously lost a libel case in the United Kingdom over claims that he had physically abused Heard. In 2020, Justice Andrew Nicol ruled against Depp, saying that a British tabloid had presented substantial evidence that Depp was violent toward Heard on at least 12 of 14 occasions.
Following the June verdict, activists questioned why an organization that championed victims at the height of the #MeToo movement had been now silent. Many who spoke out in support of Heard, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, were met with venomous online backlash from Depp’s fans.
A spokesperson for the group behind the letter, who requested anonymity due to online harassment for posting in support of Heard, stated that after the trial, “individuals were afraid to speak out because they saw what was happening to the few who had.”
According to the letter, Heard’s and her supporters’ “ongoing online harassment” was “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.”
The letter claims that the vilification and harassment of Heard, and her supporters were “unprecedented in both vitriol and scale.”
In addition to two dozen feminist organizations, more than 90 domestic violence experts and survivors’ advocates from around the world signed the letter to “condemn Amber Heard’s public shaming and join in her support.” Doctors, lawyers, professors, authors, and activists are among them.
Others who signed the letter expressed concern that the trial’s social media reaction was harming everyday victims of domestic violence.
The National Organization for Women’s national president, Christian F. Nunes, said she hopes the letter serves as a reminder that the court system should never be used to coerce victims into recanting statements about their abuse.
According to a spokesperson for the group behind the letter, there has been more public support for Heard on social media since the trial. When she and other anonymous Heard supporters joined the open letter initiative, they had been “working to combat disinformation for months.”
Experts agreed on a message they hoped to convey to survivors who read the letter.