Why You Should Believe Shia LaBeouf

My latest Daily Dot piece is about (male) actor/performance artist Shia LaBeouf’s claim that he was raped during an art piece.

What’s the worst thing that could happen if you believe that Shia LaBeouf was raped?

I ask because plenty of people seem entirely unwilling to entertain that idea. For example:

It’s unclear how exactly believing a survivor “demeans” other survivors. There is not a limited amount of empathy and concern in the world. You can care about survivors like LaBeouf and you can care about survivors who look and act like whatever you think survivors should look and act like.

Some people have said that they can’t believe LaBeouf because he’s an “unreliable narrator.” I was initially tempted to look up and comment briefly on the actor’s apparent history of twisting the truth, but then I realized that it absolutely doesn’t matter. Everyone lies, albeit to varying extents, and lying about rape in particular is so rare that I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt even if he has lied about other things before.

At the Guardian, Daily Dot contributor Lindy West writes:

A victim doesn’t have to be relatable or reliable or likable or ‘normal’–or even a good person–for you to believe them. You can be utterly baffled by someone’s every move and still take their victimization seriously. LaBeouf’s bizarre behavior and his sexual violation are in no way mutually exclusive, nor are the latter and his gender. ‘He was asking for it.’ ‘Why didn’t he fight back?’ ‘Why didn’t he say ‘no’?’ ‘He must have wanted it.’ ‘He seems crazy.’ These are flat-out unacceptable things to say to a person of any gender.

Others have pointed out that LaBeouf did not resist the alleged rape. Some of them acknowledge that survivors often “freeze” and are physically unable to resist, but claim that because LaBeouf has stated that for him the reason was that he did not want to compromise his performance art piece, then it’s not “really” rape.

I will grant that this may seem confusing. After all, if he was ableto stop the rape but didn’t, how is it still rape? If he allowed it to happen “for art’s sake,” isn’t that the same as wanting it to happen?

It’s pretty simple, and thinking of rape in terms of affirmative consent may help. Did LaBeouf make it absolutely clear that he wanted this woman to have sex with him? Did he verbally or nonverbally indicate that in a way that would be unmistakable?

No, he didn’t.

Read the rest here.

Why You Should Believe Shia LaBeouf

11 thoughts on “Why You Should Believe Shia LaBeouf

  1. 1

    What’s the worst thing that could happen if you believe that Shia LaBeouf was raped?

    The worst? That I convince enough people such that others associate rape with the “lesser harm” done to LaBeouf, thereby adding to the apathy society feels towards rape victims outside a very narrow set.

    I’m guessing that’s the reasoning here. I’m sympathetic to it. It’s one of the reasons I consistently use racism and sexism in the stricter “prejudice + power” way. Doing so keeps people from equating “that black guy said something mean to me” and things like redlining. What happened to Labeouf seems, at first glance, categorically different in a very important way from rape as we generally recognize it.

    Digging deeper, I’m not so sure he was free to dissent. Being onstage confers a lot of pressure, and being on the spot can scramble our thinking processes. He might not have been able to extricate himself from that pressure. Pressure is pressure, regardless of the source.

    I’m not going to call it rape. I’m not so sure it was. I’m not going to contest LaBeouf using the term, though. It’s clearly the closest term we have, and its likely beneficial to him in coming to terms with a traumatic event.

    Some people have said that they can’t believe LaBeouf because he’s an “unreliable narrator.” I was initially tempted to look up and comment briefly on the actor’s apparent history of twisting the truth, but then I realized that it absolutely doesn’t matter. Everyone lies, albeit to varying extents, and lying about rape in particular is so rare that I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt even if he has lied about other things before.

    Are any of the facts actually in dispute, here? This happened publicly, yes? If so, then we’re not relying on his word for anything, so even if we took into account his history of lying it wouldn’t matter. It’s bizarre to me that anyone would even impugn his honesty, here. Unless they’re assuming he’s lying about not wanting it, which would be a wildly baseless claims. I really don’t want to live in a world where past dishonesty completely invalidates their present emotional state.

  2. 2

    As far as I can tell, it’s potentially more harmful to other rape victims to not allow Shia LaBoeuf to call what happened to him “rape”, as it graphically reminds them that when they go to tell their stories, some people (including, quite often, the authorities) will endlessly dissect their stories for any reason not to call it rape.

  3. 3

    Others have pointed out that LaBeouf did not resist the alleged rape. Some of them acknowledge that survivors often “freeze” and are physically unable to resist

    I’m always wondering if those people have ever been in a situation where somebody bluntly violates a social norm and they say nothing but come up with a witty retort like 2 hours later.
    Humans largely run on scripts. When our scripts get changed, we are confused. That’s why Americans don’t get German restaurants and get confused and vice versa.
    And this is small things. People pushing you out of the way at the supermarket check out.
    Now imagine the confusion when the thing that happens is a vile violation of bodily autonomy, something that is absolutely not supposed to happen. You have no script for that. You have no response. You look into your toolbox of social interaction and there’s nothing there. That’s why I say fuck all the people who claim to know how they would have reacted and how therefore the victim should have reacted.

  4. 4

    If someone says they are sad, and you say “i’m sorry you’re sad” and then later they’re like “I was just kidding, I wasn’t sad”, that doesn’t mean that you disrespected sad people.

    Once upon a time, in 2011, I was in a math class. There were only 5 people in the class. One of them was someone I had had other math classes with in 2007 and 2010. He acted happy to see me and seemed to want to be friends. I had his phone number from before. He missed class like 3 times in a row, so when he didn’t show up again the next time, I texted him saying like “are you ok? you’re losing points for being absent”. When he came back the next class, he told me that he’d been feeling really depressed over his amputated leg and his diabetes and he was thinking about killing himself, but getting a text from me, knowing that I cared about him, was thinking about him, lifted his spirits. Shit. I wanted nothing more than a classmate relationship with this person. After class, he started telling me again how grateful he was. I kept trying to downplay what I’d done. But I didn’t want to tell him “I don’t like you, stop romanticking at me” because I was afraid that then he would kill himself and also that he might get mad and attack me. So anyway he goes in for a hug. can’t turn him away, it would be rude, especially since he just said he was suicidal. When I tried to end the hug, he held on. I hate it when people do that. So I’m just standing there waiting for the hug to end and feeling really on guard because I’m afraid he’s going to try something else and I have to try to stop him without seeming rude (because maybe he just means it in a friendly way, and how dare i turn down a friendly hug from a suicidal person?) and then it seems like finally he’s pulling away, so I try to too oh no god he’s just moving his head away his arms are still holding on tight can’t he feel me trying to pull away why is he doing this, but maybe he just is depressed and needs support, maybe it’s just a friendly thing, I look at him because social protocol, I see the KISS look on his face, I turn my head away and just leave it turned away and I just wait….. several seconds pass ……… he kisses my cheek. I keep my head turned away and wait for him to loosen his grip on me, i am so afraid of being perceived as rude or mean, I don’t want him to know that he made a mistake, because that’s embarrassing, i’m supposed to help people save face, he slowly lets go, instead of just backing away from the hug, I try to step around him to get to the door because i am desperate to get away, but i can’t go too fast because that’s rude and mean, so i stumble a little on purpose oh yeah oops i just tripped over your feet that’s all, it’s not that you’re disgusting and i’m trying to run away from you, please don’t kill yourself. My that was on the other side of him lags behind, i can’t pull it away too quickly because that would show that i want to get away, that he made a mistake, have to make it look like i feel at least neutral and i’m just trying to leave the room because class is over, please don’t get mad at me, he runs his hand along my arm as I’m moving away, till his hand is grabbing my hand and he’s smiling at me like he thinks we’re in love. I don’t smile back, I try to look neutral. At this point it’s clearly not just friendly, but I’m still afraid of appearing rude or mean or cruel to someone who just said they were suicidal. I stare at my hand, wait a second, then slowly pull it away. I think about running down the hallway. No, that’s too mean, i have to be friendly. I think about taking the stairs, because he can’t because of his fake leg, but no it would be way too awkward, I mean, is it really his fault he misinterpreted my “signals” I shouldn’t be mean to him, especially because he said he was thinking about killing himself, and I’m apparently all that’s holding him back gaaaaaah. So I rode down in the elevator with him and walked down the sidewalk until we had to part ways because we were going to different places. Then I called my friend and told her about it and I realized it was all sleazy from the beginning. He damn well knew that I was showing awkwardness, that I was not showing enthusiasm about this, but he escalated a little at a time, always leaving me in doubt as to his intentions. I didn’t speak to him since then, except a year later he was in a class with me again and he said hi, and I said hi back out of habit even though I had resolved not to say anything to him and then I was so mad at myself and at him. haven’t spoken to him since, and he hasn’t tried to interact with me.

    He was thinking like a rapist, taking advantage of our rules against rudeness and embarrassing people. And whether he knows it or not, he benefited from my fear that he would react violently to rejection.

    1. 5.1

      But it’s really good. It shows exactly how someone can be put in a situation that starts out like normal interaction and ends up being boundaries crossed, sexual assault, rape. By the time you realise what’s happening, doubt your own perceptions and come back with confirmation, figure out that the script is to say “No. Stop. Don’t do that.” *and* swim up to the surface through all the social pressure to be nice and polite and hurt no one’s feelings and not make a scene so you can say it, and presuming you’re not terrified of violence or an escalation of violence if you do say it, it’s already too late.

    1. 6.1

      I don’t know that it’s fair to slam Piers Morgan so harshly for that tweet. I think we should believe LaBeouf – because ultimately, all the “evidence” against him is circumstantial – but it’s true that those circumstances are very unusual. He has a history – continuing up to the present day – of lying, stealing, and engaging in generally bizarre and inappropriate behavior, and then claiming that his actions were in the service of “performance art”.

      This doesn’t mean he wasn’t raped – again, I choose to believe him – but I’m not going to pretend I can’t see where Morgan is coming from, particularly as someone who probably isn’t well-versed in the subject.

      1. You know, Piers Morgan could just have NOT WRITTEN THAT TWEET. It is not too hard. Millions of peope with a Twitter account managed not to do that. Because even if you don’t believe Shia LaBeouf, you do absolutely NO harm by NOT saying so, while you don’t only risk doing harm to Shia LaBeouf by tweeting that, in case that he was raped and you’re wrong, you also actively and demonstrably do harm to all other rape victims by tlling them “unless you’re a nun who got raped in the church in full daylight by am member of IS we will always find fault with you. Nobody will believe you.”
        Therefore yes, I’m going to judge Piers Morgan for the empathy-free, rape culture supporting asshole that he is.

  5. 7

    I get really bothered by the second-guessing of ‘why didn’t they do X,Y,Z?” In a frightening, stressful situation that there is really no way to prepare for, what do people expect someone to do? The other thing is, I don’t feel that anyone is obligated to ‘prepare’ for the event of being raped. If someone simply hit me, and I got hit and was badly injured, would people say ‘you should have spent some time taking a self defense class. You just LET them hit you?’

    [Note – I worry that many of the people who make this observation may be people who spend an inordinate amount of time fantasizing about what they would do in situations where they might be able to justify shooting someone.Is someone who spends a decent chunk of their time daydreaming about killing someone (likely a Black or Brown someone) over some affront probably thinks that people who fear rape spend most of our time thinking of how we’ll use what we learned in a self-defense class against random people we encounter.]

    I also think the affirmative consent is important since lack of resistance should never be taken as any indication that you have permission to have sex with someone. In the absence of such, nobody should be pushing an encounter.

  6. 8

    Going off the idea that one might not resist because what even the fuck do you do when that happens, self-imposed limitations are just as strong as social impositions. He had an art project where he told himself he wouldn’t move or speak–and it’s damn hard to try to stop someone when any thought of resisting is met with “…but I have to neither move nor speak”
    Honestly, nothing about what he says happened to him strikes me as remotely odd because my assault happened in a similar way–except instead of an art project it was a threesome, and instead of having to neither move nor speak I felt that stopping her would be rude and ruin the mood and I was the one who agreed to the threesome after all I’m sure she’ll get bored and move one to something else.

    So yeah, I can believe Shia.
    Also Piers Morgan needs to stop.

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