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Experts worry about impact of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial on victims of domestic abuse

Local experts worry about implications of chaotic trial of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard
Local experts worry about implications of chaotic trial of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard 03:15

Beyond the personal results for Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, after a jury decided the high profile case Wednesday, some domestic violence experts worry that the trial and the verdict will have an impact on victims of domestic violence. 

The Virginia jury largely sided with the "Pirates of the Caribbean" star, awarding the actor more than $10 million in damages over a 2018 Washington Post opinion piece in which Amber Heard claimed she was a victim of domestic violence. 

Heard then countersued, claiming Depp was trying to destroy her career. The jury also found that to be partially true and awarded her $2 million. 

RELATED: Jury awards millions of dollars to Johnny Depp in libel suit; Amber Heard wins less in countersuit

Some domestic violence experts said that what is clear to them is that the spectacle of the trial itself could keep victims from coming forward. 

Victim's advocate Tunisia Offray said that long before the verdict, she was worried the highly watched trial was even happening.

"That's a victim's worst nightmare. Like, your superpower is when you can tell your story freely. It kind of sets you free. It helps you heal. So, when you start silencing victims, you know, through the court system, that can be a scary thing," Offray said, adding that it's potentially chilling. 

Already, experts say about 70% of domestic violence goes unreported. Add in the celebrity element and a trial watched by millions worldwide, some fear victims will be afraid to face the kinds of accusations of lying they saw on television and that abusers could feel emboldened. 

"My fear was that this would be the case with this and that other perpetrators, who are perpetrators, will feel empowered by the fact that they can now march into the court and say, 'I want her to be quiet and not tell her story," Offray said.  

In the Heard-Depp case, both made accusations of abuse, which experts said is not rare. 

Without taking a legal opinion on the verdict, Attorney Carmen McDonald said she's concerned all of it could be triggering. 

"I agree that both of them have been raked through the coals in the media and it's unfortunate and it's sensationalized and that's what also makes it harder," McDonald told CBSLA. "I am certain that in homes that are suffering abuse, this is being talked about as a way to say, 'See, you're wrong,' or 'This is what's going to happen to you.'"

McDonald also urged victims to seek support and consider their options despite what some see as a mixed outcome. 

"This just demonstrates how difficult the legal barriers are for survivors. It shows that survivors come in all shapes and sizes. I wouldn't let something you saw in this trial deter you. Ask for help. Every case is different," she said. 

After the verdict, Amber Heard released a statement saying that she was heartbroken. Depp's attorneys said theirs was the side based in truth. 

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