The other big story of the last few days was the finale of the Amber Heard and Johnny Depp court case in Virginia. The outcome raised some difficult and painful issues about belief and court room performance, the public taking sides on social media and differences between legal systems and processes on either side of the Atlantic. If I learned anything from this case it was the new (to me) acronym of DARVO which stands for ‘Deny, attack, reverse victim and offender’, which seemed to be the strategy of Depp’s legal team as far as I could see. Although I think both teams seemed to play the game.
Wikipedia suggests that DARVO is a ‘common manipulation strategy used by psychological abusers’ in particular. But we can also see it as a well-established means by which sexual abusers try to turn the tables on their accusers. Evidence from court cases shows how defence lawyers can use this technique to a lesser or greater extent, making victims re-live traumatic events, vigorously challenging their testimony, and, in so doing, potentially impact negatively on their wellbeing. Courtroom TV drama often presents this approach quite starkly to make the point.
The main concern arising from the Heard-Depp outcome is the likelihood that some victims will now be even more wary of reporting abuse, making allegations and following cases through to trial. Sadly this is not really new – we know this already. Characteristically, it is normally a female accuser who is portrayed badly by the system, and this fact can also reinforce any entrenched misogyny. Support is offered to victims/survivors coming forward, but can it ever be enough to challenge the combination of a highly adversarial legal approach, the weight of social media interest (and not just in high profile cases) and the personal emotional toll?
‘Courage, Cost and Hope’ was the title of the Methodist Church’s Past Cases Review report published in 2015. It was so entitled because the report’s author began to appreciate how these three qualities when brought together could start to make a real difference to those who had experienced abuse in the Church and had come forward to tell their stories. One respondent stressed how the process of the review had allowed a glimmer of light into her darkened life. A lit candle is a motif that now runs throughout our training material. As the late Leonard Cohen also wrote, ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’.
The Church’s job here is to nurture that sense of hope, often starting in a dark corner. Spotting the cracks and imperfections may be one way to start to seek justice.