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The Other Side of The Story

‘Tell the world, Johnny, tell them: ‘I Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim too of domestic violence’ and see how many people believe or…

‘Tell the world, Johnny, tell them: ‘I Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim too of domestic violence’ and see how many people believe or side with you’

It is no more news that Johnny Depp has won his defamation case against Amber Heard, with a jury awarding him $15m in damages. After six weeks of testimony, the jury in the high-profile defamation trial returned a verdict following less than 13 hours of deliberation. Following the verdict, Ms Heard released a statement that she was “heartbroken”.

In her words: “I’m even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously.”

Millions of people like myself, followed this celebrity case closely for various reasons. For some of us millennials, it was because we had grown up watching Johnny Depp on our screens and we were curious to see how it would pan out. Was he really an abuser? Or was Heard a sadistic, manipulative and nihilistic woman who was making a mockery of women who had really suffered domestic abuse?

My interest, however, was not solely for entertainment purposes. I wanted to watch and compare their statements with similar cases of Intimate Partner Violence that I have managed in the past. I observed keenly, their postures, tone of voice, mannerisms and their statements and suddenly I was transported back four years ago.

It was a lazy Saturday evening and I was on call at the hospital. As second on call, I was lounging in the call room, reading, when one of the junior doctors came to say she needed me to review a patient. Mr Peter* was a thirty-eight-year-old civil engineer who presented with a headache and a laceration on his forehead. He told the doctor that he had been involved in a minor accident with a motorcycle. It was a pretty straightforward case and the doctor who called me just needed me to give permission to refer to A&E for stitching of the laceration. I gave him the go-ahead and returned to the call room.

At around 8:45pm as I was walking to the car park, I saw the patient with his bandaged forehead returning from A&E, heading towards his car looking forlorn. There was a woman sitting in the front seat of his car, waiting for him. She was probably his wife, I surmised. However, for a woman whose husband was involved in an accident, she looked incredibly well put together with her makeup applied expertly and her scarf tied to perfection. Upon closer look, I realised she was an incredibly beautiful woman with a petite frame. I waved at Mr Peter and went on my way.

Several months later, the same patient came to my clinic for a periodic medical examination as required by his organisation. He reminded me of our previous encounter and I proceeded to take a full medical history. The first alarm bell went off when I saw his case folder. The file was very thick signifying many hospital visits. I browsed through his past medical history: Malaria, fall from a chair, headaches, Insomnia, panic attacks, road traffic accident, a ceiling fan falling on his back, an ankle sprain, another road traffic accident, dog bite on his shoulder and bruises on his chest from an accident at work.

Either Peter was an extremely clumsy individual or there was something more sinister going on.

I asked about the keloid on his cheek and he said the growth appeared after he sustained a bruise from falling down on his face. He said he ‘slipped’ on a wet floor. When I asked him to remove his shirt so that I could listen to his chest, he did so reluctantly. By then, all the alarm bells in my head were screaming in harmony. His chest and upper back were covered in scars from bites, blunt trauma and wounds that had been stitched. I asked him to put back his shirt.

It is not easy for men to report abuse. Society has specific gender roles assigned to us and deviation from the norm makes us a prayer point and the focus of ridicule. Men are supposed to be tough, strong willed, ambitious and natural born leaders. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to be frail, weak, easily malleable and soft spoken. How then could Peter tell anybody that, he, a strong 6-foot-tall man, was being physically abused by his mere whisper of a wife? That she screamed and threw a glass cup at him during an argument and that was the cause of the scar on his forehead? That the keloid on his cheek was from a punch to his face when she heard him talking on the phone with a female colleague from work? That she purposely wore big, spiky, rings on her small, dainty fingers before she punched him so that she could inflict maximum pain? How could he ever tell anybody that she used to bite him viciously whenever he refused to give her sexual favours? That she demanded he drive her everywhere because she had refused to learn how to drive and would not take public transport? Who would believe him after she had painted the picture of the perfect wife to his family and friends?

Even as he described the unspeakable things she did to him, I noticed he did not use a single curse word. He spoke of her as if he revered her. He spoke of her kindness when she was in a good mood and about what a good mother she was to their children. How generous she was to his relatives and how smart and rich she was. A successful business woman who supported him financially at home. And yet, his panicked whenever he was to return home in the evenings. He hated the weekends because he had to stay in close proximity with her. His wife scared him, yet, there was no one he could tell. He both loved and loathed her.

Regardless of gender, ending a relationship, even an abusive one, is rarely easy. It becomes even harder if you’ve been isolated from friends and family, threatened, manipulated, and controlled, or physically and emotionally beaten down. Many men feel great shame that they’ve been abused, been unable to stand up for themselves, or somehow failed in their role as a male, husband, or father. When I mentioned leaving his wife- he looked at me like I had asked him to murder her. It was not an option he said. His pastor would not allow it. Is your pastor the one with scars on his back, chest and face, I asked?

I am immensely happy at the outcome of the Depp-Heard trial. I have seen many men jubilating on social media about how this is a win for the men. I beg to differ- this is a win for ALL the victims of abuse regardless of gender. Society should acknowledge the fact that even though abuse against women is more prevalent, men can get abused too. And that it is ok for them to seek help. Do not belittle their pain and struggles, telling them to “Man-up”. Prat tell, how does one ‘man-up’ when a glass bottle is broken on your head???

I am happy Depp had the courage to come forward. I only hope that men like Peter, who are victims of intimate partner violence, can muster up the courage to seek for help too.

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