Opinion | It’s time we punish false accusations

Matthew Rago, Managing Editor

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With so many high-profile cases of false accusations surfacing, the public’s trust in victim narratives is at an all-time low. Society has been conditioned to view victims with an increasingly critical eye, almost demanding that the accuser prove their victimhood before society entertains their suffering. 

Don’t be mistaken. It’s imperative that we hear and empathize with victims of physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It’s important that society listens to their accounts absent of judgment or bias in order to embolden victims and deter offenders. 

But when false accusers brazenly use the American court system to advance self-serving agendas, it infects the impact and credibility of legitimate allegations. Unfortunately, current legislation does not do enough to discourage such criminal misconduct.

It’s been three years since “Aquaman” actor Amber Heard filed for divorce from ex-spouse Johnny Depp, who the former accused of engaging in a pattern of domestic violence.  Since that time, it has been revealed that Heard–who has her own history of domestic violence dating back to her 2009 arrest for striking ex-girlfriend Tasya Van Ree–offered a partial narrative of the abuse at best and a completely manufactured account at worst. 

In an damning audio released by Depp’s legal team, Heard is heard telling Depp that she “can’t promise she won’t get physical again” and that “sometimes she just loses it.” It’s a considerable change of course from the victim complex previously adopted by Heard, an outspoken advocate of domestic violence.

But Heard’s allegations are inconsistent with the audio presented by Depp’s defense, therefore creating a fissure between public perception and authentic victimhood. It’s difficult not to become fatigued watching men and women scramble to defend themselves against baseless accusations. False accusers hurt their targets, often causing irreparable damage to the defendant’s personal and professional lives.

Over the past three years, Depp’s reputation was tarnished by both the public and the media. Depp was depicted as a “wife-beater” by The Sun. Social media demonized Depp, asking Hollywood to alienate him based on Heard’s accusations. In 2018, it was confirmed that Depp would not be resuming his role as “Captain” Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, a role synonymous with the Depp brand.

All the while, Heard relentlessly mocked Depp’s suffering behind closed doors, even attempting to make a distinction between “punching” and “f*cking hitting you” while mocking Depp’s status as a male domestic abuse survivor.

You can please tell people that it was a fair fight and see what the jury and judge thinks,” said Heard. “Tell the world, Johnny. Tell them, Johnny Depp, I Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim too of domestic violence. And see how many people believe or side with you”

Law enforcement needs to take initiative and punish those who file fraudulent police reports. When an accuser like Heard uses legislative means to exact petulant revenge against an ex-lover, she and others like her should face the maximum penalty that her victim would face had he or she been found guilty of the alleged crime.

The dispute between Heard and Depp isn’t the first case to be exposed for inconsistencies and mistruths. Last year, Jussie Smollett contended that he was the victim of a hate crime. According to Smollett, two men in MAGA hats attacked him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs. Smollett also claims that the attackers tied a rope around his neck and poured an unidentified substance over him.

In a case that rapidly evolved from alleged hate crime to an investigation into a false report, Smollett had all 16 charges against him dropped in exchange for bail forfeiture and community service. 

It’s since been discovered that Smollett, who has since been relieved of his position of “Empire,” orchestrated the entire “attack,” offering financial compensation to actors in exchange for cooperation. 

Smollett’s false accusations were detrimental to true, indiscriminate justice. His attempt to use a politically divisive climate for personal gain was grossly irresponsible and cast future allegations of similar crimes in a doubtful light. It’s heartbreaking to believe that Smollett’s unparalleled self-indulgence diminished the credibility of those actually affected by hate crimes. He single-handedly discredited the accusations of every minority and member of the LGBTQ+ community who has ever fallen victim to a crime predicated by intolerance. Forfeiture of bond money doesn’t begin to offset that damage.

The only way for us to restore public trust in the legislative and investigative processes is to provide a concrete deterrent toward future allegations. Scorned ex-lovers will feel emboldened to level truthless accusations against former partners should they expect a slap on the wrist or fractional prison sentence.  And while we never want to dissuade victims from coming forth against their abusers, we must also protect innocent men and women from false accusations.