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"Grow up, you silly little man". Would we react like this to any other rape victim?

Shia LaBeouf
Shia LaBeouf during his performance art piece, #IAMSORRY.

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.

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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.

Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan (via Twitter/@Independent)

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 commentators

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”:

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“Shia LaBeouf’s claim to have been ‘raped’ is truly pathetic & demeans real rape victims. Grow up, you silly little man.”

The collaborators

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.

On Twitter yesterday they said, “Nowhere did we state that people could do whatever they wanted to Shia during #IAMSORRY.

“As soon as we were aware of the incident starting to occur, we put a stop to it and ensured that the woman left.”

Piers Morgan replied to these tweets asking why no one called the police: “Why did you let Shia LaBeouf’s ‘rapist’ just walk away?”

Luke Turner replied, “It wasn’t clear at the time precisely what had happened, & the 1st priority was to ensure everybody’s safety in the gallery.”

Turner said, further: “She ran out, rather than simply walking away. Beyond that, it’s not my place to comment.”

Turner ignored Morgan’s next question about whether he believed that LaBeouf was raped.

Reactions to ‘male rape’

It’s true that when we hear about rape, we tend to hear more about women being raped by men or men being raped by men. We hear much less about women raping men or women raping women.

In LaBeouf’s case, there has been some incredulity about the logistics of a woman raping a man. Our Facebook page saw quite a few of these comments on the weekend.

Shia LaBeouf FB comments male rape

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Shia LaBeouf FB comments 2 male rape

Shia LaBeouf FB comments 3 male rape

There is a certain amount of shame and disbelief associated with women raping men – which is one of the reasons why this crime often goes unreported.

A man recently wrote anonymously on the online forum, Reddit, about his rape experience. When asked whether he confronted his rapist after her attack he said, “I never want to go near her, I feel sick thinking about her. I’ve only told one person and they didn’t believe me, I guess this is why I’m doing this on reddit, so I can talk about it without the social stigma or the risk of people I know finding out

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All survivors of rape deserve our compassion. The disbelief associated with LaBeouf’s claims will likely make it harder for survivors to come forward.

LaBeouf himself

Ultimately, the last word lies with LaBeouf who seems to be ‘seeking himself’ through his art.

LaBeouf’s comments were given in an email exchange with a journalist for an interview with Dazed and Confused magazine.

In his interview, he refers to the trauma of the assault – especially when he came face-to-face with his girlfriend only minutes after he was attacked: “she asked for an (explanation) and I couldn’t speak so we both sat with this unexplained trauma silently it was painful the hardest part of the show.”

Shia LaBeouf 1
LaBeouf’s interview with Dazed and Confused was conducted via email, but he asked that a video interview be recorded where he and the journalist sit silently. He requested, “we just look into each others eyes for an hour, connect on a soul level and film that as the interview and keep the words online so we will will both have go pro cameras strapped to our heads”

With projects like #IAmSorry, LaBeouf said he’s seeking a sense of purpose:

“I’m finding myself through these projects,” he explained to Dazed. “I’m exploring.”

Exploration is not a bad way to think about the fallout from LaBeouf’s rape revelations.

Perhaps the one good thing that has come out of this whole sad saga is that we as a community are now actively exploring how we treat survivors of sexual assault – and, we hope, how we can do a better job at it.

If you or someone you know are affected by domestic violence, you can call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) 24 hours, 7 days a week, or click here. If you, a child or anyone else is in immediate danger, call 000 immediately

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