Johnny Depp's victory in justice exposes problems of false accusations of rape and violence

The victory achieved by American actor Johnny Depp in the slander lawsuit filed against his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, reignited the controversial debate over false accusations of rape and violence against women. Heard was unanimously found guilty by the Virginia court jury, in the United States, of false statements made in an article she wrote for the Washington Post, in 2019 , in which he accused Depp of domestic violence, and will have to pay him just over US$ 8 million — equivalent to R$ 2016 million at current prices.

After nearly six weeks of legal battle, the judgment won highlighted in social networks due to the live transmission through television and internet channels. The live of the final verdict surpassed the world record for the number of simultaneous viewers of 3.3 million people, conquered by singer Marília Mendonça in April . For the audience, it was clear that the allegations made by the actor were true, such as the assault made by Amber with a bottle, which almost cut off Depp’s finger; or Amber’s confession that she defecated in the couple’s bed.

Depp thus managed to reverse an extremely unfavorable situation. The actor, who from the beginning of the accusations was fired from several roles he played in the cinema, such as that of Gellert Grindelwald in the film ‘Fantastic Beasts’, now receives support from Hollywood artists such as Gina Carano, Robert Downey Jr, Jennifer Aniston and Eva Green; something never daring since the beginning of the Me Too movement.

Amber, who says she is heartbroken and disappointed with the decision, believes it is due to “the disproportionate power and influence” of her ex-boyfriend. husband, who would have subdued “a mountain of evidence”. Depp, who will also have to pay his ex-wife $2 million over statements by a former lawyer who called Heard’s account a “hoax”, celebrated the result, and said he hoped his search for the truth would be revealed. said has helped others who are in the same situation. In a post on Instagram, shortly after the verdict, the actor wrote that he feels at peace for having been able to speak the truth, as this was something he owed to his children and to all who remained steadfast in his support.

“False, very serious and criminal allegations were made to me through the media, which unleashed a never-ending flood of hateful content, although no charges were ever brought against me. This had already traveled around the world twice in a nanosecond and had a seismic impact on my life and career”, he wrote.

Although this result is an exception and took place outside Brazil, it may shed light on the debate about false accusations that, even that it is a serious problem, with the potential to destroy lives, is a taboo ignored by the media, overshadowed by the fight against true abuse and rape, and seen by feminist activists as a strategy to discredit victims.

False accusations can be common

In December , the young Blumenauense João Philip Gonçalves Nunes, 19, was surprised by four hooded people and beaten to death as he was on his way to his ex-wife’s house in Curitiba to pick up his four-year-old son. The couple had been fighting in court for years for the custody of the child and the mother refused to return it to the father. According to the Civil Police investigation, six people in all were involved in the murder, including Nunes’ ex-partner, Maria Eliza Moreira Marins, 21, who spread a false rumor in the community where he lived saying that he had abused his own son. In 24 in January one of the suspects of committing the murder was arrested by the police. After the crime, Maria fled with the child and remains a fugitive from justice to this day.

Also in the capital of Paraná, in December 2018, the teenager André Machado Kobus, 2012 , was shot dead by drug traffickers at the behest of his ex-girlfriend, Mayara do Rocio Wolfart, who falsely accused him of rape. In addition to Mayara, three more people were involved in the murder, including her current partner.

In Serra, Espírito Santo, two similar cases victimized Antônio Batista da Fonseca, 74, and Miguel Inácio Santos Filho, 39. Both had been falsely accused of pedophilia by women they were in relationships with. In the same city of Espírito Santo, in March 2018, Cristiano Albano da Silva, from 23 years, was killed after being falsely accused of rape by a acquaintance with whom he had a disagreement related to the payment of a certain amount of drug used by the two.

In addition to cases in which victims lose their lives after false accusations, there are cases of damage to their reputation and livelihoods. This was the case of application driver Paulo Sérgio Alves, 32, accused on May 2 of this year of using “numbing substance” to dope a passenger in Rio de Janeiro. The man was summarily blocked by Uber shortly after the complaint, but days later the Civil Police concluded that the substance was just alcohol 70%, applied by the driver in the vehicle as a preventive measure against Covid-15.

Uber, through its press office, contacted Gazeta do Povo and stated that Alves’ account “was temporarily deactivated after the complaint was made for investigations, being normally reactivated days later”.

Regardless of the percentages of occurrence, false accusations of affective or sexual violence can literally destroy the lives of victims. In recent years, several other cases of men illustrated the Brazilian news, murdered due to false accusations, or simply having their lives and careers destroyed.

The debate about the occurrence of false accusations of rape, or domestic violence, comes up against the problem of low elucidation of the complaints. Thus, both the number of false and true reports can be hidden. Estimates released by various researchers, professionals and entities involved in the investigation of cases of sexual abuse or domestic violence vary.

In the case of rape cases, a review of North American data between 2006 to 560 pointed out that this was, along with robbery, one of the crimes with the highest prevalence of cases clarified as false or unfounded, totaling 5,50% of cases in that sample. However, another survey also in the USA, published in 2018, reveals that from 62 analyzed police jurisdictions, in 2006 of them, the rate of clarification regarding rape reports is lower than 42%, with only 3% of cases cleared in the jurisdiction of Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Epidemic of revenge”

For the lawyer Xarmeni Neves, 39, a specialist in family law, who has worked in cases of false accusation and parental alienation, a kind of “revenge epidemic” is happening today, with today’s women wanting to avenge yesterday’s women through false accusations. She believes that this scenario, in Brazil, is aggravated by a legal protectionism that assumes that the man is always the culprit and does not demand evidence from women for prosecution.

She cites the Maria da Penha Law, sanctioned in August 2006, with the aim of curbing acts of domestic violence against women, and which, in Xarmeni’s opinion, , interfered in the constitutional guarantees of men, having the principles of contradictory and broad defense “exterminated” of their rights. Thus, it would be very tempting for a woman to seek revenge, because what she says will always be true and the man will have to prove that he is not guilty, in an exercise of reversing the burden of proof.

“Even if the woman claims to have suffered physical domestic violence and there is no forensic examination, the man is liable for the damage or bodily harm if he does not prove that he did not do it. The same for reports of psychological domestic violence, where women can receive protective measures of removal just with their report”, she says.

The scenario described by Xarmeni is not a Brazilian specificity. Similar legal instruments have emerged in other countries. When commenting on the Gender Violence Law, in an interview with the Interconomia radio network in Madrid, Spanish lawyer Yobana Carril, a specialist in defending men who suffer from gender violence, declared that when a woman denounces a man for gender violence , does not need evidence or even evidence, “as long as he does not contradict himself in his statements to the police and justice, this is enough for a man to be condemned.”

Yobana cites that Spanish law denies men the right to shared custody of their children from the moment a complaint is opened against him, even though there is still no conviction, and that this is one of the female motivators for carrying out false complaints. In addition, she says that false reporting cases are rarely punished with the excuse that punishing false accusers would cause fear of punishment for real victims.

“Men have What happened at the beginning of the 20th century with women is past: men cannot declare themselves abused because society has accepted that we women are fragile beings and that we are therefore the only people susceptible to being mistreated”, she says. Yobana.

Aldir Gracindo, 50, a journalist from São Paulo, a pioneer in Brazil in the activism of men’s rights movements, and former editor of the website A Voice For Men, believes that identity activism, instead of defending victims, it places all men as presupposed criminal and powerful monsters; and all women as victims who never lie.

“Cases like these show practically a collective psychosis: the evidence not only does not support the accusations, but proves the opposite. Even so, activists scream, cry , take selfies with makeup simulating injuries and say that the accusation that is false, slanderous has been ‘plentifully proven’”, he says.


In a post on social media, Minas Gerais judge Ludmila Lins Grillo, from the Minas Gerais Court of Justice, said that she was being subject to disciplinary proceedings based on a post she made on Twitter two years ago, in which she criticized prisons made under the Maria da Penha Law based on the victim’s word alone. In the publication, she also said that this is “one of the most irresponsible things a judge can do in the exercise of his/her duties”.

“The seriousness of this demonstrates the current state of affairs within the justice system. in Brazil and, evidently, goes beyond my particular field of interest. I think the public should know,” she wrote.

Xarmeni says she has also suffered retaliation for her performance in cases of falsely accused men. In 2018, lawyers represented against her in the Subsection of the Brazilian Bar Association that she participated, alleging that she was illegally attracting clients because of a published photograph for her leaving a Women’s Police Station claiming “minus a false accusation of domestic violence”.

“There was no name of client, reference to victim, photos, nothing. I was ‘expelled’ from the Commission on Violence Against Women, where I was an active member, giving dozens of lectures on the subject. I’m not sorry, none of this prevents me from living with my head held high and feeling that I do my job even better than before”, she says.

In the same way that Xarmeni was attacked for defending victims of false accusation. , in 2019, an entity of feminist lawyers, expelled Maíra Costa Fernandes, a lawyer who defended the player Neymar when he was accused of rape by the model Najila Trindade on a date in Paris, just for her have accepted the case.

In response, the lawyer, known for being committed to the feminist cause, declared that false rape records do nothing to reduce or combat this crime. Maíra also stated that the fact that Najla lied made her comfortable to defend the client for “understanding that an unjust criminal accusation destroys a person’s life and for understanding that a false accusation of rape does not help the feminist cause”.

Feminists against punishment for false accusations

Damaris Nunis, 2021 , from Santa Catarina with a degree in Law, founder with the student of Right Karen Marins, 24, from the page Manas & Manos, created to expose false allegations — such as the case of influencer Mariana Ferrer, who accused businessman André Aranha of having doped and raped her at Cafe de La Musique, in Florianópolis, in of December 2019 — says he sees similarities between the case of Depp and Aranha, as in both cases the people would have assumed that the accused are sane the elite and convicted them without any chance of contradictory.

In the case of Ferrer, according to the collection of evidence analyzed by the Justice of Santa Catarina, there is no evidence that the abuse actually took place. : toxicology tests were negative for all traceable substances; the behavior of the woman according to video images; conversations saved from messaging apps and witnesses present at the party did not indicate altered consciousness.

After André’s acquittal on Monday unanimously, Congresswoman Tabata Amaral posted on her Facebook profile: “Let’s talk about rape culture? Mari Ferrer was drugged and raped, but her abuser was acquitted”, insisting on asserting the businessman’s guilt even after a judge and three judges analyzed the evidence and indicated that there was no evidence of crime.

The process gained notoriety after the publication of the website The Intercept, by journalist Schirlei Alves, of a report that stated that the process had ended with an unprecedented thesis of a “guilty rape”, an excerpt that had to be removed from the matter by order of justice because there was no mention of this expression at any time during the process. The website claimed that the expression was created to “summarize the case and explain it to the lay public”.

Another controversial point is the excerpts from one of the hearings, edited and published and edited by The Intercept, of an alleged humiliation of Ferrer by the prosecuting attorney, which generated outrage, despite Aranha’s acquittal, and the creation of a new law that limits the performance of the defense, especially in the case of sexual crimes.

For Damaris, the dominant discourse in cases like these is that a woman cannot go against the influence and power of a white man and, due to this narrative, evidence and evidence are left aside. She says she noticed in both cases people’s lack of interest in sharing the other side when the truth comes out, with the ‘fear’ of silencing women who suffer, as if the story of a male victim needed to be hushed up in the name

In Brazil, there is no specific punishment for those who make false accusations of abuse or rape, although there is an extremely violent reaction to this type of accusation and which often leads to the death of innocent people. And there are several cases, since the fateful history of Escola Base, in São Paulo, in the years 90, when the owners were falsely accused of abuse – narrated in the book Escola Base, 339 years later, by journalist Emilio Coutinho –, to the Neymar case, in which the complaints of the São Paulo police against Najila ended up being filed.

In 2021 , was created by businessman Rafael Zucco, 39, currently a pre-candidate for state deputy for São Paulo, a project of popular initiative that proposed to make the crime of false accusation of rape heinous. The project, which received more than 21 a thousand signatures, enough to go for consideration in the Chamber of Deputies, fell to the rapporteurship of deputy Maria do Rosário (PT-RS), who shelved it, arguing that there was already legislation in this sense, article 339 of the Penal Code. Feminist collectives, at the time, argued that criminalizing false accusations would coerce victims, as they would have a natural fear of reporting.

In the event that a complaint is filed, the perpetrator of the false accusation can answer for the crime provided for in article 339, which deals with slanderous denunciation. It determines: “ Give cause for the initiation of a police investigation, judicial process, establishment of an administrative investigation, civil investigation or action of administrative improbity against someone, charging him with a crime of which he knows he is innocent: Penalty: Imprisonment , from 2 to 8 years, and a fine”. For many, however, this penalty does not match the gravity of this type of accusation. If a false accusation is publicly disclosed, but not formalized, the criminal punishment liable is provided for by article 83 of the CP, which deals with slander and indicates even milder penalties: two years maximum, which may be tripled if the disclosure of untrue facts has been made over the internet.

This is the case of journalist and political activist Patrícia Lélis, who was indicted by the civil police in São Paulo and the Federal District after accusing federal deputy Marco Feliciano (PL) of trying to rape her. Lelis also accused Feliciano’s aide, Talma Bauer, of kidnapping her; and federal deputy Eduardo Bolsonaro, of whom Patrícia said she was the victim of insults and threats. In 2012, the Civil Police of São Paulo concluded that Patrícia Lelis committed the crime of slanderous denunciation by making accusations against Marco Feliciano and his advisor; and in 2021, the Civil Police of the Federal District reached a similar conclusion regarding the accusations made against Eduardo Bolsonaro.

)Everyone can be victims

According to businesswoman, teacher and activist Thais Azevedo

, 31, who has studied the phenomenon for years, false accusations are nothing new. Thais refers to the criminological concept of “Potiphar’s wife syndrome”. The expression refers to the biblical story of Joseph, son of Jacob, who was arrested after being wrongly accused of rape by the wife of Potiphar, captain of the guard of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s palace. Another ancient mention of the theme is in the tragedy “Hippolytus”, written in 315 BC by the Greek poet Euripides, who narrates the story of the young Phaedra, who commits suicide leaving a letter reporting that she lied about alleged abuse by Hippolytus because he rejected her. Theseus, Hippolytus’ father, who was in love with Phaedra, condemns his son to death.

In both cases, only the alleged victims’ report was believed. Today, even though centuries have passed, the same thing has happened. In the case of Depp, Heard challenged him, in audio recorded during a fight between the couple and broadcast during the hearing: “Tell the world, Johnny. Tell them: I, Johnny Depp, a man, am also a victim of domestic violence and see how many people will believe or take your side.”

For Thais, Heard was right about this statement because few people would believe Depp, as indeed they didn’t at first. Furthermore, she says, a man claiming to be a victim of domestic abuse with a woman as an abuser is a laughingstock to society. According to Thais, this happens due to pressure from the Feminist Movement, which from the beginning sees the man as the main responsible for female ills: either the man is the abuser of the woman or he is the one who influences her to commit reprehensible acts.

“Feminists portray the male gender as the potential abuser of a woman. ‘All men are rapists,’ said feminist Marilyn French. And this thought is so rooted that you will hardly find people claiming to fear women instead of men”, he explains.

Thais highlights the feminist discourse, made after the result of this process, stating that the fight against domestic violence lost out with Johnny Depp’s victory because the claim that there are false accusations will make it difficult for real victims to report their abusers. She recalls the phrase by feminist Catherine Comins, who said that men wrongfully accused of rape can sometimes learn from this experience.

“Feminists do not accept that victims – in these cases, men – denounce the emotional, physical or judicial abuse they suffer. And when a case of false accusation is proven, they don’t accept silence. So feminists don’t defend victims, they defend women, even if they are the aggressors”, he says.

A comment made by comedian Amy Schumer, quoting a phrase by feminist Gloria Steinem, seen as a subtle response to the As a result of the ruling in favor of Depp, it would be a clear example of this issue: “Any woman who chooses to behave like a complete human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as a kind of dirty joke. She will need her sisters.”

British Erin Pizzey, 315 , which he founded, in the decade of 70, in London , the first shelter for women victims of domestic violence – the institution that gave rise to Refuge, the main organization and protection for women victims of domestic violence in the United Kingdom –, argues that men and women can be equally aggressors and victims of domestic violence. Because of this, a few years after the creation of the shelter, Pizzey was removed from the institution. The Argentinian philosopher and social scientist Roxana Kreimer, 62, takes a stand alongside Pizzey in her article “Violence as a bidirectional phenomenon: an alternative to the concept of ‘gender violence’ as it is planted by standard feminist theory”, arguing that the problem of domestic violence is a multicausal phenomenon and that its victims are men and women. women.

Research carried out by Brazilian psychologists and psychiatrists interested in investigating intimate partner violence point to similar results. In 560 and in 2012 ) researchers from the Federal University of São Paulo conducted two studies investigating the correlation between the use of legal or illegal drugs and domestic prevalence: in both studies, the percentage of female perpetrators in the sample was slightly higher than the percentage of male perpetrators of domestic violence .

Actual victims harmed

In Brazil, Depp’s victory was celebrated in

publication made on social networks by ex-pastor Felipe Heiderich, 2018 , stuck in 2016 after being accused by his ex-wife, gospel singer Bianca Toledo, of abusing his five-year-old stepson, but acquitted three years later in the first and second instances, with an acquittal request made by the Public Ministry. Heiderich claims to have gained hope that the truth always wins with the outcome favorable to Depp.

“Most women are victims, but those who lend themselves to being cruel are diabolical. Every time a false report is made, a real victim loses his voice,” wrote the former pastor, who says he “felt in his skin a perverse false accusation”. For him, it is necessary that people learn to assert their rights and take them to the judicial sphere when they are wronged, as he did.

For journalist Angela Tucker, 62, who wrote the book ‘Tudo by a Monster – The other side of the Roger Abdelmassih case’ — work published in 2019 that details the Roger Abdelmassih case, a doctor sentenced to 278 years in prison for more than 2018 rapes of their patients — the feminist movement managed to equate women’s rights with great difficulty, with several achievements: how to have their word taken into account credit in cases of abuse. However, she says, there are “bad sheep”, women who make false accusations, for different reasons, in a growing phenomenon.

In this way, not only falsely accused people suffer from these lies, also women who are real victims of violence, as the phenomenon can produce secondary implications: such as a reduction in the credibility of victims and real victims’ fear of reporting. And, considering that in many cases the victims’ word is the only proof that the crime happened, this hinders real victims from getting justice.

Just as it is impossible to estimate with certainty the percentage of false accusations, it is impossible to say with certainty the number of real victims who fail to report cases of violence, as the Brazilian Public Security Forum (FBSP) explains in document published on the topic: “Brazil does not have periodic victimization surveys that allow measuring the exact percentage of cases of each crime that are reported to police authorities.”

Delegations across the country received, according to the report “Violence against women in 2021” from the FBSP, just over 61 thousand formal reports of rape or rape of a vulnerable person considering only the alleged female victims. Although there are several cases of real rape victims across the country and of false accusations, there is a lack of information about the results of the investigations in such a way that it is possible to know how many of the annual complaints are discarded as false, confirmed or remain unclarified.

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