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Advocates say Depp v. Heard trial could deter victims from coming forward

The verdict and spectacle of the trial left some advocates worried this could deter domestic violence victims from coming forward for fear of not being believed.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — A Fairfax jury sided with actor Johnny Depp on Wednesday in the high-profile defamation trial against his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard. 

The jury awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages and no punitive damages.

Virginia law states that punitive damages are capped at $350,000, so Depp will receive a total of $10.35 million.

RELATED: Why the Amber Heard, Johnny Depp defamation trial is being held in Fairfax County

Throughout the six-week trial, people on social media were picking sides: Team Depp or Team Heard.

Many leaned in favor of Depp during the defamation trial, crowding Twitter with hashtags like #AmberHeardisaliar #AmberTurd and #AmberHeardisapsycho.

RELATED: Depp-Heard jury still sorting through weeks of dirty laundry

"This is the most painful and most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through," Heard said during the trial.

Both Heard and Depp threw claims of abuse at each other during their testimonies.

During Depp's testimony, he alleged he is the victim of domestic violence, not Heard. While on the stand, Heard admitted to being physically violent with Depp but claimed she always acted in self-defense. Heard alleged Depp physically abused her countless times during their years together.

Both deny the other's claim.

The verdict and the spectacle of the trial left some advocates worried this could deter domestic violence victims from coming forward.

"I think it’s very impactful to survivors sitting at home thinking will people believe them? Especially when you’re looking at this case that was broadcast on a nationwide scale and there’s so much public support and so much opinion and memes and Facebook posts and all that kind of stuff. I’m sure people at home are thinking, you know, if somebody doesn’t believe somebody on this scale, why would somebody believe me?" Olivia Smithberger said.

Smithberger is the executive director at Help and Emergency Response, Inc, better known as the H.E.R Shelter. They help victims with shelter, supplies, and even court advocates to guide them through the legal process and have a shoulder to lean on.

"Court can be a really scary thing and to have to go to court alone can be the reason some people choose not to do it. She can kind of lead the process, be support, explain what's gonna happen, what the steps are, what she's going to be asked, all of those kind of expectations. Really just be the person to sit next to them," Smithberger said.

She said they see both men and women come through their doors and welcome them with open arms.

"We’re here to support survivors. We’re not here to judge or ask for proof," said Smithberger.

After the jury reached the verdict, Heard told ABC News "I'm heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence and sway of my ex-husband. I'm even more disappointed with what this verdict means for other women. It is a setback. It sets back the clock to a time when a woman who spoke up and spoke out could be publicly shamed and humiliated. It sets back the idea that violence against women is to be taken seriously."

On social media, Depp expressed gratitude:

“I hope that my quest to have the truth be told will have helped others, men or women, who have found themselves in my situation, and that those supporting them never give up."

On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by a partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. That equates to more than 10 million men and women per year.

Smithberger said if you find yourself in that situation, don’t be afraid to seek help. There are resources across Hampton Roads available to you.

The H.E.R Shelter operates in Portsmouth and Chesapeake, The Samaritan House in Virginia Beach, YWCA Women in Crisis Program in Norfolk, Transitions Family Violence Services in Hampton and Newport News and the Genieve Shelter in Suffolk.

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