This past week, The Hunger Games actress Jena Malone posted a photo on Instagram taken after wrapping up the last entry of the franchise, Mockingjay: Part Two. The photo, in which Malone is standing in a field in the French countryside, was captioned with a statement detailing her sexual assault by a coworker on The Hunger Games set. Malone stated that she is working to “reclaim the joy and accomplishment [she] felt” upon concluding filming of the franchise despite the pain she associates with it.
The post incited a whirlwind of online discussion, with many offering heartfelt well-wishes and applauding her strength, but some members of the public expressed criticism. To them, without disclosing the name of her assaulter, Malone is complicit in shielding them from accountability.
One Instagram user commented, “Hiding/protecting a violator only leaves them unaccountable and open to offend others. Call their name, and keep it moving.”
This position comes from the hope that publicly naming sexual predators present in the film industry will make workplaces safer for women. Keeping their identity a secret only protects them from consequences, right?
While this stance might hold some moral integrity in theory, in practice, past cases show otherwise. Despite facing multiple sexual abuse allegations, Woody Allen continues to make films to this day. Marilyn Manson is currently suing Evan Rachel Wood for defamation after she accused him of sexual abuse. Harvey Weinstein is the exception, not the rule—and while Weinstein may be in jail, Rose McGowan claims that some of her projects were dropped, such as one with Amazon Studios, after she came forward against him.
To come forward against an abuser does not guarantee substantive action, and—especially for women—it opens a new mode of discourse to be shamed and blacklisted.
Take the defamation lawsuit between actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard—and its new and dangerous legal precedents. Heard penned an essay for the Washington Post in 2018, two years after their split, in which she detailed her experiences with domestic violence and the ways that her professional and personal life were affected by telling her story. Although she does not mention Depp by name, based on her previous restraining order filed against him for abuse, it is clear who she was talking about. In 2019, Depp sued Heard for $50 million over the article, claiming that Heard was in fact the perpetrator, rather than the victim, of abuse. What resulted was years of legal proceedings, with Heard ultimately losing the trial and settling her appeal out of court.
The court of public opinion grants little mercy. Heard faces unparalleled online vitriol to this day. Seemingly uninterested in the complexities of abusive relationships and the evidence provided in court by either person, as well as Depp’s loss in a U.K. libel lawsuit decided by a singular judge, supporters of Depp rallied unflinchingly behind him. What took place was a wave of mass misogyny to steadfastly place Depp on a pedestal and Heard at the stake.
Evidence that pointed to flaws in Heard’s case was broadcast across the internet, whereas evidence against Depp did not make headlines. A deeply personal case of domestic violence transformed into a public spectacle. The trial was live-streamed, and Johnny Depp fan accounts and Amber Heard hate accounts proliferated. Those who “suffered” in silence since the inception of the #MeToo movement finally had a scapegoat: An imperfect victim, a woman who could be vilified as a liar—regardless of whether Depp had lied, too.
Malone’s post exemplifies how survivors can face scrutiny for almost every possible action and inaction. In the act of naming her perpetrator, Malone puts herself at risk of the same vilification and online abuse faced by so many women who publicly come forward against their abusers. After the Depp-Heard case, women who speak out against their abusers are not only publicly reviled but now face a legal precedent of a possible defamation lawsuit. Not only is Malone morally unobligated to inform the public on such a personal issue, but the material consequences of doing so would be increasingly devastating.
Great article covering multiple and complex considerations. One almost needs to carry a checklist in order to do a cost benefit analysis, and there seems to be something wrong with that.