Shia LaBeouf was Raped (and the Internet went mad)

Shia LaBeouf sits in silence with journalist Aimee Cliff
Shia LaBeouf sits in silence with journalist Aimee Cliff

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?

  • Anonin Biswas

    I’m sorry, but there’s nothing complicated about this. I think it’s an insult for him to use the word rape–it’s an insult to any man or woman who has actually been raped.

    If he said this woman held a gun to his head, knife to his throat, or provided some other form of duress, we can talk, but if he just sat there while she ‘had her way with him’, that’s not rape, that’s consent.

    He chose to sit there. He chose to remain silent. He chose it. He could have stood up. He could have ended the ridiculous ‘art’ show he was supposedly conducting–he could have done any number of things, but he chose to do nothing.

    Real rape involves the threat of violence. It involves the victim truly believing he or she has no choice for some reason. What is his reason? What duress was he subjected to–he couldn’t end his absurd ‘art’ show?

    Whatever that was, it wasn’t rape. Besides, if there were hundreds of people in line, why is he the only one commenting on it–where’s an independent source at least talking about watching him have sex–whether it looked like rape or not?

    His comments should not be dignified by giving them credence. He is simply another rich asshole who thinks he’s got it hard, when he really doesn’t.

    The reason people need more time to process it is that it doesn’t make any damn sense. You can take as much time as you want–it still won’t make any sense.

    • http://sonjalouise.wordpress.com SonjaLouise

      When I was 15, I was raped by my then boyfriend.

      I chose to go to his house in the middle of the night.
      I chose to strip.
      I chose to hug and kiss him.
      I chose to get into bed with him.

      I didn’t ( and couldn’t because of my age) choose to have penetrative sex with him.

      I didn’t fight him off.
      I didn’t scream.

      I, like Shia, could’ve done those things.

      So…does that make MY rape any less real?

      • Anonin Biswas

        Honestly, I’m not sure what basis for comparison there is for the rape of a 15 year old girl, and the ‘rape’ of a grown man at his own art display in front of hundreds of people by his own account. See the comments about power dynamics. He created the situation he was in–literally.

        I can’t speak to your situation, Sonja, nor will I because there is really no similarity between the two situations beyond you both say you were raped, but, no, it doesn’t make your rape any less real–I guess I would just say don’t let his publicity stunt cheapen what you went through.

        Have we really reached a point where this is a matter of opinion? That there are people who actually think Mr. LeBeof is a victim here? Rape is a powerful word with a much more powerful reality behind it. To lend credence to a man who is simply trying to garner attention for…who knows why, actually…is an insult to any man or woman who has actually been raped. Who has actually felt powerless to do anything about it.

        The question here is whether Shia can be a victim. I suppose he could, but he allowed himself to be victimized (maybe for his ‘art’ I don’t know), so anyone who thinks he was raped is mistaken–he gave his consent, whether he says he did or not. He had people there to help him, he could have helped himself. Just sitting there an allowing something to happen to him doesn’t constitute rape–rape entails one doesn’t believe they had a choice.

        Whether he availed himself of it or not, Shia had a choice. Rape requires the use of force–real or implied. Where is the force in his situation? Where is his inability to make a different choice? Where is his lack of power (real or perceived) to make a different choice? His pointless publicity stunt should not be a platform–his experience should not be the impetus–to discuss something as real and painful as rape. He doesn’t know the first thing about it.

        • me4maine

          “He allowed himself to be victimized” Then there’s the assertion that Shia didn’t feel powerless to stop what was happening. Do you realise the narrative you’re writing here with this? Do you realise that’s what is said to thousands of women every day? Why are you assuming that just because he didn’t say anything or physically fight back that he didn’t feel powerless? Can you imagine the terror of being in the presence of someone who decides they have a right to your body, regardless of your consent? I clammed up both times I was raped, unable to move; when the first man who raped me finished, I asked him if there was anything else I could do for him. This was after not screaming, not fighting back; just laying there motionless, “allowing myself to be victimised” as you put it.

          Did I “allow” myself to be victimised there? I though so. For years. It drove me to the point of attempting suicide. There are still some days when I question things, what I could have done differently, if just saying the word ‘no’ would have make a difference, if I’d rolled over, if I’d just once screamed, or kicked, or cried. But there was nothing but absolute silence. There was a clear lack of consent on my part, just as there was a clear lack of consent on Shia’s. An absence of ‘no’ does not translate to a ‘yes’ no matter where you are, whether it’s your own home, a college dorm room, your boyfriend’s house, drunk at a frat party, or at your own art installation piece.

          And to presume that you know what was going through his head and what he was thinking, and how terrified he might have been – to take all that and think you have a right to decide that he wasn’t really raped doesn’t have implications for just Shia. Shia couldn’t have been raped because he could have said no; if that’s true, I don’t see how I could have been raped because I could have said no, or done anything at all to stop it.

          • Anonin Biswas

            How interesting that you feel so connected and empathetic to a millionaire sitting in a chair holding court, as though his experience bears any similarity to the yours–it doesn’t. You, like others here, are also are ignoring the power dynamics–and the huge differences in those dynamics between your situation versus his.

            LeBeouf created the narrative–not me. I’m merely commenting on it.

            Your situation is nothing like his. If you wish to delude yourself that it is, I won’t try to stop you, but in my opinion your ire should be directed at him for claiming he could have any idea of what rape is–that he has any right to compare his experience to a real sexual assault like yours.

  • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    There is an attempted rape in a scene in one of the books I’m writing at the moment…

    When I presented this scene to my writing class I received a lot of positive feedback about the scene – it was gripping, tense, and very emotional…

    But then my writing tutor pointed out something – I had gotten the power-dynamics of the scene completely wrong, and the person I thought of as being the victim wasn’t the victim – it was the other way around…

    In any case of sexual assault there is always a power-dynamic between the victim and the abuser…

    I’ve just read Amanda Palmer’s “The Art Of Asking” where she talks a lot about art and trust… As part of her Kickstarter Campaign, she would hold parties where, sometimes if she felt comfortable, she would strip naked and allow the audience to draw all over her naked body…

    This experience was mostly positive – except for one occasion where a female fan briefly penetrated her digitally – this was in public and in full view – at the time Amanda just pushed her hand away and shrugged it off, but later she felt violated… she had exposed herself to an audience – she gave them permission to draw on her – she said to these people “I trust you – I feel safe with you – draw on me” but one person had violated that trust…

    It looks like Shia LaBeouf did something similar – he was presenting a performance piece where he allowed the public to sit in a room with him and do whatever they liked – again, he was saying “I trust you – I give you permission to participate in this performance art”

    He gave an audience permission to use him in anyway they wished, but with that permission comes an expectation that they will not abuse that trust – One person decided to betray that trust – whether Shia LaBeouf decided to fight back or not is irrelevant – that person was wrong to betray Shia LaBeouf’s trust.

    The power-dynamic was this – Shia LaBeouf was the person in the vulnerable position – he was the person saying “I trust you not to hurt me” – the audience had the power – and one person abused that power.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      Nailed it

      • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

        Phew!

    • http://emhawker.blogspot.com/ Emily

      BRILLIANT. You’ve said exactly what I was thinking, but far more articulately.

      • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

        Thanks Emily…

        I have to thank Amanda Palmer, I think – if I hadn’t read her book this week, I don’t think I would have had the same perspective…

        Love books like that – the ones that teach you things.

        • http://emhawker.blogspot.com/ Emily

          Definitely. Will have to read it myself.
          For me, my first thought was of the Steubenville case, where a girl was unconscious and the defence was that she ‘didn’t affirmatively say no’. If we say Shia didn’t say no so consented, what about her? What about every rape where the victim is unable to articulate anything? Or has consented to other things and is rendered mute by what is happening – perhaps feeling like they brought it on themselves? Or where they feared for their safety if they actually said the word no? We undermine every rape or sexual assault where the victim didn’t consent, but ‘didn’t say no’.
          Whoops. So much for leaving the words to you! I just can’t condone people using positions of power – ANY positions of ANY power – to abuse others sexually. EVER.

          • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

            Yep – Sex without consent is abuse – it’s as simple as that.

          • Kimba Likes

            I’m astonished by the assertions that because he was a millionaire and a man he couldn’t possibly have been raped.

            There are thousands and thousands of people who have been raped who were so shocked and terrified and distraught that they were unable to move or speak let alone yell or fight back or even utter one word “no”.

            Victim blaming is entirely unacceptable. It makes my skin crawl to think that because people think that because someone didn’t say no they consented.

            If the roles were reversed, if Shia was female and the perpetrator male, this conversation would not be happening. At least I hope not.

    • Anonin Biswas

      In your analogy, Ms. Palmer pushed the hand away. Mr. LeBeouf didn’t.

      Much like Sonia below, your basis for comparison is not valid. He had a choice–it is the power dynamic you mention that creates the real or perceived lack of choice, which forces the victim into the rape category. He chose to let her do that–it wasn’t the surprise penetration that Ms. Palmer experienced. From the description it sounds like there were several opportunities for Shia to stop what was happening–like when she was whipping his legs or whatever.

      He may have felt powerless to stop her (please tell me why, since that piece of information is lacking), but the fact is he wasn’t powerless–there was no coercion to get him to do it–he just chose not to stop it. That is consent, not rape. He trusted her not to do that? How do we know? Did he publish ground rules to the ‘exhibit’ that prohibited that? Did this woman who allegedly raped him have those ground rules before she decided to interpret his ‘art’ her way?

      We have no information on what he did or didn’t trust people to do at his ‘exhibit’. If there are no rules, why would this be a violation or off-limits? This might be his ‘art’ gone terribly wrong, but it’s not rape–he chose it.

      Just like in your story, John, you have the power dynamics wrong here too, since Shia could have exercised the necessary power to stop whatever it was that happened to him at any point in time. To pretend otherwise is to ignore the real power dynamics of a millionaire sitting in a chair silently for weeks for some incomprehensible reason while thousands of people come to see him and pay tribute. That’s a modern day king on a throne, not a victim who has no (real or perceived) control over what happens to him.

      It’s his situation and his situation alone. He created it. He chose it. He now has no business claiming he has been victimized. It’s the people who stood in line for the nonsense he fobbed upon them that are the real victims here.

      • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

        You argue eloquently, but victim blaming is still victim blaming.

        The only reason Shia was sexually abused was because the woman who abused Shia decided to abuse him…

        Shia didn’t ask or give her permission to sexually abuse him…

        Instead of asking why Shia didn’t stop her, you should be asking why did the woman think it was OK to sexually abuse Shia…

        Sex without consent is abuse – and in this case, the woman performed a sexual act on Shia without consent.

        His reaction to the sexual abuse is irrelevant.

        • Kimba Likes

          Thank you for saying that John. I wanted to respond to the comment above but my response was wholly unacceptable.

          • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

            Thanks Kim…

        • Anonin Biswas

          Wow. No, John, you are mistaking clarity and truth for eloquence.

          The other thing you talked about was trust and some sort of understanding the artist and the patrons are supposed to have.

          However, if no clear understanding was communicated, and he didn’t stop her, it was her understanding that she had a right to do what she was doing–he was there to be quiet and put up with whatever every patron had for him, right? It was just another part of the exhibit, so it still wasn’t assault–it was him suffering for his art–at the very worst. If he didn’t communicate to her that he trusted her not to make sexual advances, how would she know?

          I’m going to say it one more time, and then I’m done, since as with so many other places on the internet and this planet reason clearly has no place here:

          He was a millionaire holding court at an art gallery in some bizarre experiment he created. If he really didn’t want that to happen to him, he could have stopped it

          He is not a victim, and to call him that degrades and trivializes people who really have been victimized. However, I see even some of them have shown up here to defend him, as though he has any idea what they actually went through. He doesn’t.

          Take care.

          • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

            Wow… I’m gobsmacked that you can so calmly argue a case for sexual abuse and feel comfortable about it… I’m kind of impressed actually

            You ask: “If he didn’t communicate to her that he trusted her not to make sexual advances, how would she know?” – So, you’re basically saying that anyone can have sex with anyone they choose to unless the person says “no” at some point.

            If you believe that, then I think you need to reassess your moral values.

            Personally, I believe that I do not have any right to have sex with anyone, unless they say “yes” – that’s a big difference, and completely the opposite, it seems, to how you see the world.

          • Anonin Biswas

            Sexual abuse? You misuse the phrase. The same way Shia misused the word rape. From the sound of his description, a groupie gave him a blowjob, and he sat there an let her while everybody watched. That’s not rape–it’s disgusting–it’s awkward–apparently it was ‘painful’, but it wasn’t rape. He accepted and chose it–he was not intimidated or forced into it, and he was not powerless (except, apparently, by his rules in his ‘exhibit’) to stop it. Show me where he says he was.

            Look behind you, John–you left the ‘power dynamics’ part of our discussion languishing back on the horizon, and since that’s all this is about, you need to go back and get it. When did Shia surrender the power in his exchange with his groupie?

            After you find your power dynamics re-read his quote above. Nowhere does it say he felt powerless or unable to stop it. He seems to have accepted it as part of whatever stupid-ass objective he had for his ‘exhibit. It was painful? Yeah, because his girlfriend just watched him cheat on her, and he refused to even discuss it with her. I’m gonna feel sorry for her long before I sympathize with his ‘rape’.

            Next, please identify where I move from the specific (Shia’s stupid ‘art’) to the general (appropriate sexual boundaries for everyone in the world). Oh, right, I didn’t do that. I’m still dealing with this specific situation that Shia LeBouf literally (yes literally–we’re not even talking in figurative terms) created for himself. I haven’t been talking about sexual mores in general, but I’ll definitely flag that for you, when I start making generalizations, so you don’t have to infer or make them for me, thanks for the thought, though.

            I have been specifically talking about this art exhibit that Shia LeBeouf put on, and how it must have been okay to do what that woman did, because she was allowed to do it, by everyone, including Shia.

            I never said it’s okay to have sex with anyone unless they say ‘no’. I said it must be okay to do it in Shia’s art exhibit, because he allows that sort of thing–he had the power to put the thing together, and he had the power to stop it at any time. That’s a big difference, John, and completely the opposite of what you said above.

            Wow is right. I just can’t help myself. I’m in awe that I’m witnessing you defend Shia LeBeouf for misusing the word rape.

          • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

            Actually, now that the facts are coming out about this story, it seems that the people running the exhibition did try and put a stop to the assault once they realised what was happening:

            Not that this new information makes a difference. I still stand behind everything I’ve said in this discussion.

            You continue to argue that, for some reason, you think the sexual abuse was justified because Shia was “a millionaire” and it was a “stupid art” exhibition – I must admit, I’m struggling to understand what you’re trying to argue…

            And then you say this: “I never said it’s okay to have sex with anyone unless they say ‘no’. I said it must be okay to do it in Shia’s art exhibit, because he allows that sort of thing”

            What are you trying to say? Do you really think that “it must be okay to do it in Shia’s art exhibit, because he allows that sort of thing” – are you really arguing that in the context of an art exhibition that sexual abuse is OK?

            Fine – if you really believe that, I can’t change your mind…

    • Sophia Russell

      Thanks for this John James, talking about it in terms of trust/abuse is helpful in understanding what happened.

      I think what makes this case messy with is Shia LaBeouf chose to put himself in a position of vulnerability. Some people who are raped don’t have that option. Others place themselves in such a position, believing the other person will not hurt them and being mistaken. Whatever the circumstance, who are we to judge that decision? The point is that person was abused, full stop.

      I can also – in a tiny way – understand not defending yourself. I have never been physically attacked, but there have been times I have felt sexually demeaned and not defended myself out of shock, and only in hindsight do I realise I was not ok with what happened and I wished I’d stood up for myself.

    • maree Talidu

      Well said.

  • Sally

    It’s so offensive for him to cry rape. He chose to allow this as a part of an artistic performance. Is it sexual abuse? Absolutely. Is it rape? No. That’s a slap in the face to survivors of rape. Why didn’t he report his rapist? Why did he continue with his performance art? Also, other than saying he was whipped for 10 mins, he hasn’t said what this woman did. Do I think it’s ok? Absolutely not. But do I think this falls under the category of genuine rape? I struggle with that concept. I feel he was sexually abused, and to me, that is different to rape. Rape is such a strong word with such heavy & vile connotations. Was this an artist who chose to ‘suffer’ for his art?

    • http://sonjalouise.wordpress.com SonjaLouise

      There is a large part of me that thinks if it was the other way around in terms a gender – a female artist and and male perpetrator – that we might not be having this conversation (though I could be wrong).

      In NSW, these are legal definitions surrounding sexual assault (you’ll notice there is no legal term of ‘rape’)

      ” Sexual assault is any unwanted sexual behaviour by one or a group of people, against another without their consent.

       Sexual Assault: touching or penetration of the vagina or anus with a penis, finger, tongue or any implement, or touching or penetration of the mouth by a penis or vagina.

       Indecent Assault: any other unwanted sexualised behaviour such as grabbing someone’s breast or penis, exposing genitals, showing pornography to a person who is under 18 years.

       Aggravated Sexual Assault: indicates use of a weapon, force or threat. Sexual assault in company is known as gang rape. ”
      -from /www.nswrapecrisis.com.au/GetHelp/InformationAboutSexualViolence.aspx

      Consent seems to be something that people find confusing. There is a movement worldwide to see the legal definition of consent change from the absence of a ‘no’, to the presence of a ‘yes’ freely given by someone of age who is not impaired in the decision making ability in any way. I think it’s a good move. I mean, I didn’t realise for the longest time that I’d been in a sexually abusive relationship.