***Please note, we are not taking sides in this case, we are simply using it as an important springboard to talk about an topic that does not get enough attention.***
It’s taken the internet by storm. Memes, articles, opinions, videos, and even ads for t-shirts with “Mega-Pint” quotes have usurped my news feeds. Yes, the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial is certainly a hot topic right now. But this particular Hollywood gossip goes far beyond traditional entertainment. It is bringing to light a subject that has been overlooked and pushed aside for far too long. The revelations from the trial have been shocking, horrifying, and heartbreaking. As painful as it must be to re-live the trauma and air all his dirty laundry in front of the world, Johnny Depp’s story is helping to break down the stigmas surrounding male victims of domestic violence and creating an opportunity for us as parents to address a serious issue.
Domestic abuse (also known as “Intimate Partner Violence” or “IPV”) towards men is rarely something we hear about. In TV shows and movies, if a woman hits or insults a man, it is generally presented as a “humorous” moment. Society has told our boys to “take it like a man”, and has given them the impression that they are “sissy” if they admit a girl hurt them. So they don’t talk about it. But violence is still violence, no matter the gender of the victim, and abusive behavior should never be excused.
According to the CDC, 1 in 3 men experienced some form of violence from their significant other. That is a jaw-dropping statistic in a world that seems to rarely depict males as the victimized partner. Ready for the really alarming part for us moms of teens? 56% of those men first experienced an abusive relationship before the age of 25. Those statistics don’t even represent victims of verbal or psychological abuse.
It is clear that abusive relationships are far too common and start at surprisingly young ages. Depp’s testimony about his alleged abuse is opening the door wide open for us to learn ways to equip our sons to recognize and escape an abusive relationship. The results of the trial are still pending, but here are some truths we have learned so far that we need to share with our sons:
Abuse doesn’t discriminate
Despite his wealth, fame, status, good looks, and even personal bodyguards, Johnny Depp still found himself stuck in an allegedly abusive relationship. Even as a male, he was a victim of alleged physical abuse by his wife. We have to clear away any pre-conceived ideas about violence in relationships and recognize it can happen to anyone. Teens in particular often feel invincible and believe that bad things could never happen to them. We have to help them understand they are not immune to toxic relationships either. Our sons still live in a society that pushes them to be tough and tries to dismiss that they can also be victims of IPV. It is on us to help reverse those lines of thought.
Abusive relationships don’t start abusive
We heard it from both Amber and Johnny on the stand, and I have heard it from nearly every person who has found themself in a violent relationship: “It started off so amazing. They were such a wonderful partner.” Until a few red warning flags began to show up. And then those flags turned into sirens that gave birth to horrific storms, but by then they were in too deep and couldn’t find a way out. In discussing abusive dating relationships with our kids, we need to teach them to be aware of shifts in the dynamic. If their partner is showing repeated red flags or persistent abusive behavior, they need to get out before it escalates any further.
Abusive relationships don’t get better
An abusive partner will vow to change and apologize profusely. This is part of the typical abuse cycle, it doesn’t mean things are going to improve. When a relationship has reached the point of violence or verbal abuse, there is no going back. In general, things get worse and not better. The violent acts become more frequent and more severe, the verbal attacks take on stronger venom, and the gaslighting leaves the victim feeling more and more like it is all their fault and there is no way out.
It may feel impossible to leave, but it is detrimental to stay
“Why didn’t he/she just leave?” It’s one of the first things people say when they hear about the atrocities that occurred in an abusive relationship. The answer to that question is incredibly complicated but some common reasons are: There is still an emotional bond despite the pain, they are afraid of what their partner will do to them if they leave, they are being blackmailed by their partner or their partner threatens self-harm if they end things, they don’t understand how damaging the relationship truly is, they feel they are the ones at fault, or they believe their partner will change. Whatever the cause, many victims will endure an immense amount of pain and struggles for the sake of keeping the relationship intact. When we talk to our kids about IPV, we need to empower them to know it is not just okay to end it, but that it is good and even essential that they escape. It’s not quitting, giving up, being weak, admitting defeat, or any of the other terms that hit our sons in the ego. Instead, leaving a toxic or abusive relationship should be seen as admirable, strong, and courageous.
In a now infamous audio recording, Amber Heard tells Depp, “Tell the world, Johnny, tell them, ‘Johnny Depp, I, a man, I’m a victim too of domestic violence. And see how many people believe or side with you.” At the time, and for nearly 6 years it appeared her statement was proving true. But the tides are turning now as more truth is revealed. Let’s use Johnny’s courage in telling his story to help our boys as well. We can carry the momentum of recognizing that men (and boys) can be victims of appalling behaviors. Let’s help create a society where our boys don’t have to suffer abuse in silence for the sake of their masculinity.