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Trigger warning: This article discusses allegations of physical and sexual violence and drug misuse.
For the past few weeks, all eyes have been on Fairfax County Courthouse, Virginia.
But these aren’t just jokes, and this is not a comedy. This is real life. And not just for the two people facing down in the very public courtroom.
The treatment of the world’s most-watched court case has had a devastating impact on survivors of sexual assault and domestic abuse. On people like Anu Verma.
Anu, 41, was subjected to sexual abuse from the age of three by a member of her household. For Anu, watching events unfold from a trial that details allegations of sustained abuse from both parties – and the way they have been played for laughs – is hard to take.
“The fact that the whole hearing is publicised and used as entertainment as well. To me, it shouldn’t have been so exposed,” she says.
“It’s led to the public really not taking this seriously anymore and I fear that the public thinks that it’s going to be okay to abuse each other because everyone just finds it a joke, and it’s not a joke. It’s so serious.”
Anu’s abuse took her from childhood to her traumatic teenage years.
“By the time I hit 18, my coping mechanism was drugs,” she says. “I was reckless because I’d never valued myself all my life, so it really impacted my self-worth and then that had a knock-on effect on my choice of partners.”
Anu suffered five abusive relationships in adulthood.
Thanks to therapy, she has since been able to ‘move forward’ from her trauma. Anu has come to terms with her past and is now in a healthy relationship. She is a mother to a four-year-old boy and is pregnant with her second child.
But seeing allegations of sexual abuse reduced to memes could hold her and many other survivors back in their healing, she says.
“It hurts. It really hurts because I know the impact that was having on me, and I just feel to not take it seriously is only going to make the trauma worse [for survivors],” Anu explains.
Ruth Davison, CEO of Refuge, a charity for victims of domestic abuse, warns: “The impact of [this case] on survivors of domestic abuse is a huge concern. There is a very real risk that survivors will be re-traumatised by the headlines and content they are seeing, or that they will feel apprehensive about seeking support.
“Scrolling on TikTok or Instagram, you can see horrific memes and reels where alleged assaults are being recreated as part of a ‘funny’ trend – abuse is never a joke, and these videos perpetuate harmful ideas and myths about abuse, how it manifests and how a victim might present.
“When large numbers of people are seeking to discredit or mock a woman talking about her experience of alleged abuse so publicly, concerns survivors may have about not being believed will be amplified. Survivors should never be silenced.”
Anu – who is now a published author, podcast host and trauma therapist – says her healing wouldn’t have been made possible without speaking about her experience. So, in this way, she understands there is some value in discussing this court case in public.
The fact that US court cases are televised, with open access to the public in high profile lawsuits – with queues for each day’s hearing being hours-long – has opened the ugliness of reaction out to anyone who cares to watch.
For Anu, and others like her, the hope is that the reaction to Heard’s testimony, in particular, doesn’t deter other victims from coming forward.
“I’d say if something traumatic has happened to you, please don’t take it lightly because the consequences can be pretty fierce – I’m a walking example of that,” she says.
“I don’t want anyone to be suffering in silence, I want them to speak out. Just find someone who you can talk to, it just takes one person to believe in you which really helps.
"Just having that one trusted individual who you can talk to – that can be the split between life or death.”
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