Trigger warning: this post deals with rape and sexual assault and may be distressing to some readers.
There are some celebrity stories that don’t seem particularly interesting as you skim past them, but the more that you read about them, the more fascinating they become.
Shia LaBeouf’s rape allegation is one of those stories. Not just because of the circumstances of the alleged crime, but because of the way that we, as a community, have reacted.
As Nina Funnell pointed out on Mamamia over the weekend, LaBeouf, star of the Transformers franchise and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, can be a bit of a nit. His public behaviour is often inappropriate. He has stormed out of interviews. He disrupted a Broadway show (for which he was arrested for disorderly conduct, harassment and trespass and served a few days in prison).
Plus, he’s an artist whose art pieces and performances aren’t for every taste.
#IAMSORRY is one of those divisive performance art pieces. And it was the setting of a much speculated-about sexual assault.
In February, LaBeouf sat at a wooden table in a room with a paper bag on his head for five days. In front of him were a number of props reflecting films that he had been in, including a Transformers toy, a whip (presumably referencing Indiana Jones), a pair of pliers, some chocolates and a bottle of whiskey. The paper bag on his head read: “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE”.
People were invited in to sit with him, one-by-one. Several people who went in to see him said that he cried the whole time. Certainly videos taken inside his performance (including the one below) show him looking very sad.
Note, this video was recorded before the alleged assault took place. Post continues after the video.
It was during this performance that LaBeouf alleges he was sexually assaulted.
The circumstances are unusual – he allegedly maintained his paper bag performance when a woman whipped his legs (with the whip that was in the room), undressed him and then raped him. During the assault he maintained his performance and did not immediately disclose what had happened, although it seems that some people were aware of it after the fact.
As Nina pointed out, we don’t get to choose which rape victims we support. He did not say “Yes, please” to this woman, so when she violated him, she did so without his consent. That is all that is required for the offence of rape – no fighting back, no reporting of the incident – nothing else is necessary.
But it’s probably inevitable in a case like this that people will have a strong reaction. And certainly people have. It is interesting to explore what some of these reactions have been – because they tend to tell us more about who we are than they do about the actual case.
The media have largely reported this story straight, but a few people have weighed in, including CNN anchor, Piers Morgan who wrote on Twitter that it was an “outrageous ‘rape’ claim” that “demeans real rape victims” and the whole thing was “ridiculous”.
He added, that LaBeouf had “invented a supposed ‘rape’ for cheap PR” and that he was “lying”:
“Shia LaBeouf’s claim to have been ‘raped’ is truly pathetic & demeans real rape victims. Grow up, you silly little man.”
The artists that LaBeouf worked with on this art project have tweeted their support for LaBeouf’s claims. British artist Luke Turner and Finnish artist Nastja Sade Ronkko confirm the incident did indeed take place and they intervened as soon as they became aware of it.