Today we were all shocked to read this quote from Shia LaBeouf about being raped while sitting silently in a room as a performance art piece:
“One woman who came with her boyfriend, who was outside the door when this happened, whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me… There were hundreds of people in line when she walked out with dishevelled hair and smudged lipstick. It was no good, not just for me but her man as well. On top of that my girl was in line to see me, because it was Valentine’s Day and I was living in the gallery for the duration of the event – we were separated for five days, no communication. So it really hurt her as well, as I guess the news of it travelled through the line. When she came in she asked for an explanation, and I couldn’t speak, so we both sat with this unexplained trauma silently. It was painful.” Source: Dazed
I read the quote, then tracked down the original interview and read that. I saw it come up in my news feed multiple times over the course of the day and I could not look away.
I kept reading the comments searching for some words that somehow summed up what I feel. The closest I got was one comment which said “I could have written this today or in a week and it would still be true: I need more time to process this.”
I honestly don’t know how to interpret this. The reactions I’ve read have been polarising. There is the view he cannot truly be a victim of sexual assault as he had the option to just sit there and say and do nothing, or to stop it. Then there’s the view that writing the episode off as “arty douchebaggery” rather than true sexual assault is a symptom of the overarching view that women can be the victims of sexual assault and men can’t.
The truth is nothing about this episode is so simple.
It is true he sat there and let her rape him, without stopping it. But if you did the same thing when someone was trying to rape you, would it make the assault any less real? Is it only rape if you fight?
There seems to be some mixed messages here surrounding consent. In many ways the popular catch-cry “No Means No” feeds into this – is it consent unless someone actually says no? Surely not.
So what is it about this story that’s so perplexing, so horrifying, so unsettling and so polarising?
I think it’s because it demonstrates how complicated rape is. It’s easy for us to write off rape as something that happens to other people. Something that happens to women who are dressed a certain way or walk alone at night. Something that happens to men only in prison, and something easy to spot, easy to categorise, easy to explain.
But it isn’t.
Sexual assault isn’t just about saying no. Sexual assault can be complicated, it can be murky, it can be unclear, and it can happen to someone who is in the middle of a performance art piece. It can happen between married couples, and it can happen in an alleyway at night.
It scares me that the lines around rape are so unclear, when it should be so easy. Sexual acts without consent is sexual assault. Consent isn’t about just not saying no – consent is about saying yes.
So why are we so confused?
What was your reaction to Shia LaBeouf’s story? Did it make you uncomfortable? Do you feel he should have stopped it, and cannot cry sexual assault because he didn’t?