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Shia LaBeouf's sexual assault: "We don't get to choose which victims we support."

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Shia LaBeouf.

Trigger warning: This post deals with sexual assault. It may be distressing for some readers.

Fury star Shia LaBeouf has revealed he was sexually assaulted by a woman in a gallery earlier this year.

In February, LaBeouf sat silently in a gallery for five days with a paper bag on his head, as members of the public were invited to visit with him, one by one, and spend ten minutes with the star.

In a recent series of emails with a journalist from Dazed, LaBeouf has disclosed that he was sexually violated by a woman during the five day performance.

“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,” LaBeouf wrote in an email.

“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.”

At the risk of alienating some LaBeouf fans, I’m going to admit that I don’t have a lot of time for LaBeouf. In fact, back in February, when I first read about this “artistic performance”, I rolled my eyes and groaned.

Watching an extremely powerful and privileged Hollywood star attempt to ‘explore’ what it must be like to be voiceless, does not exactly strike me as clever, witty, insightful or cutting-edge.

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LaBeouf in Cannes, 2012.
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On the contrary, there is something incredibly cringe-worthy (and borderline insulting) about watching a man of remarkable privilege and wealth, dabble in what it must be like to feel powerless and voiceless (which is, of course, a lived reality for millions of less privileged people around the world, each day).

And if that’s not enough, then let’s all remember that this is also a guy who once plagiarised a short film, and then plagiarised the apology he gave, once he was found out.

So it’s fair to say that, in my book at least, I’ve always seen LeBouf as a bit of a tool.

But here’s the thing. Regardless of my personal tastes and preferences in different celebrities, it’s not up to me pick and choose which sexual assault victims deserve our sympathy and support. Nor is it up to me to decide how violated an individual can feel as a result of a specific sexual exploitation.

Indeed it’s not up to any of us to judge or scrutinise another person’s experience of sexual violation or how they feel about it.

Of course I can already hear the comments screaming: “But why? Why didn’t he take off his stupid brown paper bag hat and stop what was going on? He could have simply said no, and stood up, walked away!”

I’ll admit, a similar thought entered my head when I first read the story. After all, this is a man who is so privileged that not only does he have the luxury of deciding how and when he will experience the same sort of voicelessness that many people around the world experience every single day just by virtue of their poverty, class, gender or race, but this is also a man, who, in prioritising the continuation of his artwork over and above stopping a sexual assault, was actually exercising a degree of choice: a luxury which other sexual assault survivors are viciously robbed of.

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On one level then, it will be completely understandable if survivors of sexual violence are offended and even insulted by his actions, and by the mockery his contrived experiment makes of their own, very real, very un-optional life circumstances.

But equally, other sexual assault survivors may very well feel that questioning his actions in this situation is yet another re-articulation of a culture which puts the onus on victims to constantly ‘explain themselves’ and justify their conduct.

And in the end, I agree that if his own actions weren’t breaking any law, then he doesn’t owe any of us an explanation. More to the point, I also agree that interrogating his choices and conduct will only serve to take the focus away from the choices made by the other person in the room.

And let’s not forget that, regardless of how we feel about him or his art, a person did decide to enter this room, and without any consent or reason to believe he was consenting, she chose to sexually interact with him without any express permission.

How we respond to these fringe or bizarre cases is important because it’s in these matters that we reveal our true colours and our true stance on non-consensual sexual activity.

And if, as a community, we declare ourselves to be opposed to all forms of non-consensual sexual-activity, then we have to be consistent in that approach.

We don’t get to pick and choose which victims we support based on which ones we like.

So when Sarah Palin’s daughter writes that her virginity was stolen from her by her boyfriend during an evening when she was so drunk she couldn’t remember what happened, feminists ought to stick up for her just as we would for any other rape survivor in this situation. And when Julian Assange – the poster-boy of the Left – is accused of sexually assaulting two women, leftist feminists must condemn the alleged conduct, just as we would if it were a powerful Republican who had been accused.

This is also why, when a man whose artwork I find pretentious and annoying, claims he feels sexually violated, I’m going to listen and trust what he says.

Because if I don’t, then how can I ever expect others to offer the same benefit of the doubt in return?

And in the end, how we treat the disclosures of people we don’t particularly rate or relate to, reveals exactly what our true standards are as a community.

If you or someone you know are affected by domestic violence, call the 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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