Why We Need To Be Talking About Shia LaBeouf’s Rape Allegations

Above: At his #IAMSORRY art exhibit in L.A., Shia LaBeouf invited visitors to sit with him while he wore his "I Am Not Famous Anymore" paper bag over his head

In a recent interview, actor Shia LaBeouf said that he was raped in a tiny art gallery in Los Angeles during his art installation titled, #IAMSORRY. But in the days since his shocking revelation, LaBeouf has received little public support, and his words have been met with criticism on social media.

For the unaware: At LaBeouf’s one-man art show back in February, visitors were invited into a closed room to join the actor while he sat silently with a paper bag over his head. LaBeouf shared the details of his Valentine’s Day assault with Dazed magazine:

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.

The story was quickly played out on a few blogs and entertainment sites across the internet, but the allegations didn’t receive nearly the amount of coverage as other high profile sexual assault cases dominating the news lately, most notably the scandals surrounding disgraced CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi and Hollywood legend Bill Cosby. But, it’s not like LaBeouf doesn’t normally frequent the headlines. His very public meltdown earlier this year proved to be fodder for every corner of the internet with stories being pumped out daily and LaBeouf’s bizarre actions continuously commented on and criticized on social media.

The most disturbing thing surrounding LaBeouf’s rape account is the number of media outlets and individuals that met LaBeouf’s personal testimony with disbelief, scorn, and criticism.

As you’d expect, some have chalked LaBeouf’s story up to a desperate cry for publicity. Former CNN host Piers Morgan has been LaBeouf’s harshest critic, attacking his Dazed interview, labelling his claims “absolute baloney” and declaring on Twitter “Shia LaBeouf’s claim to have been ‘raped’ is truly pathetic & demeans real rape victims.” “Grow up, you silly little man,” the pundit continued.

The first problem with Morgan’s accusation is that the incident has been verified by LaBeouf’s artistic collaborators. Finnish performance artist Nastja Säde Rönkko and British artist Luke Turner both took to Twitter following Morgan’s comments to confirm their knowledge of the art gallery incident and clarify the boundaries of the installation.

Tweets from @NastjaRonkko

The always relentless Morgan rebutted asking why the artists let the woman leave the venue, to which Turner responded:

Tweets from @Luke_Turner

Note: Morgan maintains his claim that the rape story is an “insult” to rape victims and penned an article criticizing LaBeouf for the Daily Mail following his interaction with Rönkko and Turner.

The second and much larger problem with Morgan and others criticizing LaBeouf’s experience, is an open refusal to take the victimization seriously. Morgan (or any other online naysayer) does not get to decide who has or has not been raped. Quite simply, LaBeouf did not invite or consent to any sexual interaction with the woman… It was sexual assault. The circumstances of the incident, the technicalities of the incident, LaBeouf’s bizarre behaviour throughout the past year or the fact that he is a man do not excuse any form of sexual violation. We need to believe ALL victims.

“Men are stronger… Why didn’t he push her off?” “He is desperate for attention.” “Why didn’t he say no or shout for help?” “He wanted it.” (All comments pulled from Twitter) These are unacceptable things to say to a person of any gender when they have made accusations of sexual assault. These are the types of comments that ensure victims rarely speak out, the kind of comments that had kept allegations against Jian Ghomeshi or Bill Cosby quiet for so long, and exactly the type of ‘insults’ Morgan rails against even while perpetrating. Comments like “Men can’t be raped,” (the most seen line surrounding the LaBeouf rape story) are the main reason men who experience sexual assault so rarely speak out.

Let’s get down to it because the narrative of “if the crime happened to a man, it must not be true” is disheartening. Men of all ages can be the victims of rape. According to a 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the most recent available from the organization), nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men have been raped. Experts say that the actual number is much higher, as incidents of sexual assault are severely underreported — particularly among male victims. Just how far off that number is may surprise you. A more recent claim from MaleSurvivor.org, an online resource for male survivors of sexual trauma, claims that a startling 1 in 4 men were or will be sexually abused. Another fact. Men can be raped by men and men can be raped by women. In fact, according to a recent analysis of data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 46 percent of male victims reported a female perpetrator.

In the last few years we’ve made an incredible amount of progress when it comes to talking openly about sexual assault against women and breaking down the stigmas surrounding rape. But for the most part, when we talk about rape, domestic violence, or sexual assault, men are left out of the conversation, except as objects of accusation. This needs to change, and the first way to work towards change is by talking about male victim shaming and the publicity surrounding LaBeouf’s rape claims.

LaBeouf’s testimony echoes the experiences of many victims of sexual assault, both female and male. It should remind us of why it’s so important to expand discussions about sexual violence to include men as well.

Tags: rape, Shia LaBeouf

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