The Unsettling Trend Among Female Abuse Lawsuits

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There is a growing and unsettling trend among high (or "higher") profile women. 

News broke today to PEOPLE, that Elsie Hewitt, a model who dated Ryan Phillippe for two months this summer, filed a lawsuit against him yesterday alleging that he assaulted her on July 4 when she showed up at his house to pick up her stuff post-breakup. She claims he beat her and threw her down the stairs. She went to the cops after the incident and a temporary restraining order was granted. According to Hewitt she also saw Phillippe “repeatedly abusing a panoply of legal and illegal drugs, including without limitation: cocaine, ecstasy, psychedelic mushrooms, and steroids…Phillippe increasingly combined these drugs with excessive alcohol consumption and often exhibited symptoms attendant of poly drug and alcohol abuse, including mood swings and bouts of anger.”

She’s posted photos (somehow deemed "glamour shots"), which can be seen here and is asking for no less than one million dollars in damages. 

Cue: the money-grabbing, whore narrative. Cue: the lawyer’s rebuttal. 

To undercut that “whore” narrative we so often see associated with public cases like this, Hewitt’s lawyers have said that the accusations that she is out for money and fame aren’t true, and that if she wins, she will donate the money to domestic violence charities. The suit was filed only yesterday, and Hewitt is already on the defense. 

This is becoming an all too familiar plot point and smells a bit like victim-blaming's cousin. In order for women to be taken seriously by the public, they’re required to take extra measures to ensure that people know they’re telling the truth. i.e. not take a pay day. (This is theme all too familiar among women in general. We’re asking for too much. You can’t be feminist capitalist. Women have to pretend that they aren’t running for-profit businesses.) But specifically as it relates to narratives and accusations around abuse, more women feel compelled to pay up (or pay it forward) when the men are required to pay out. If they want to be taken seriously, they can’t ask for a dime. 

Or rather, they can only ask for a dollar. 

Just last month Taylor Swift’s federal-counter lawsuit against former radio host/ass groper DJ David Mueller made headlines when the Grammy-winning entertainer won the suit where she testifies that Mueller stayed attached to her bare backside during a photo op with him and his then-girlfriend Shannon Melcher. Her winnings?  A symbolic $1 as a chance to stand up for other women. Mueller, on his part, should he have won, could have received $300,000. There was no way he was donating that money or making symbolic gestures. 

In closing arguments, Swift’s lawyer Douglas Baldridge said, “That single dollar is of immeasurable value in the scheme of things. It says no means no for all women.”

But I’m not entirely sold on this. Sure, it’s not about the money. It’s about calling men out on their shit and holding them responsible. But it enforces the ongoing storyline that women have to prove the validity of their story by foregoing funds. 

Yet another recent example is that of actress Amber Heard, who settled her divorce and domestic abuse claims against ex-husband Johnny Depp for $7 million dollars. Heard, 30, filed for divorce in May and obtained a temporary restraining order, alleging her Oscar-nominated husband assaulted her after a drunken argument in their LA apartment. Those claims were met with similar jeering as Hewitt. Some cried blackmail. Others like actor Paul Bettany tweeted: tweeted: “Known Johnny Depp for years and through several relationships. He’s the sweetest, kindest, gentlest man that I’ve ever known. Just saying.”

Of her settlement, Heard has said, ”As described in the restraining order and divorce settlement, money played no role for me personally and never has, except to the extent that I could donate it to charity and, in doing so, hopefully help those less able to defend themselves." She went on: "As reported in the media, the amount received in the divorce was $7 million and $7 million is being donated. This is over and above any funds that I have given away in the past and will continue to give away in the future." Amber added that the $7 million will be divided amongst charities with "a particular focus to stop violence against women," including the ACLU and the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, where she has volunteered for over a decade.

While we admire these noble acts surely beneficial to foundations in need, something about this is hard to swallow. Is it necessary for women to donate their winnings or take symbolic stands to be viewed as honest? Or to be taken seriously?  

Is proof no longer sufficient? (Side note: proof has never really been sufficient when it comes to dudes getting away with things.)

Apparently not, according to the uptick in these kinds of cases. 

Women are still required to be the sweetest, kindest, gentlest victims. Donating all money to charities. #Justsaying. 

Arianna Schioldager is Editor-in-Chief at Create & Cultivate. You can follow her @ariannawrotethis. 

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