Unfortunately, the lawsuit that musician FKA twigs (legally known as Tahliah Debrett Barnett) filed against actor Shia LaBeouf last week is not the first accusation of abuse made about him. In her Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit, Barnett alleges that LaBeouf committed sexual battery, assault, and infliction of emotional distress, and also accused him of knowingly giving her an STD. One of the events that Barnett recounts is an incident that took place in 2019 where LaBeouf purportedly sped down a highway without a seatbelt on with Barnett in the passenger seat, threatening to crash his vehicle if she didn’t “profess her love for him.” Additionally, this behavior is recognizably abusive, and absolutely should be addressed in a court of law.
Thankfully, Barnett was brave enough to come forward and bring a civil suit against her former boyfriend. “I’d like to be able to raise awareness on the tactics that abusers use to control you and take away your agency,” Barnett said, in a statement. Although her lawsuit is the first formal accusation of abuse against LaBeouf, others of his former girlfriends have come forward with similar stories. Karolyn Pho, who dated LaBeouf for two years, experienced similar issues during their relationship. In addition, the popular musician Sia expressed support of Barnett. and brought forward her own concerns about LaBeouf’s behavior.
I too have been hurt emotionally by Shia, a pathological liar, who conned me into an adulterous relationship claiming to be single. I believe he's very sick and have compassion for him AND his victims. Just know, if you love yourself- stay safe, stay away. https://t.co/2NNEj9w8b1— sia (@Sia) December 13, 2020
Labeouf himself also responded in an email to The New York Times. He made the following statement:
“I’m not in any position to tell anyone how my behavior made them feel. I have no excuses for my alcoholism or aggression, only rationalizations. I have been abusive to myself and everyone around me for years. I have a history of hurting the people closest to me. I’m ashamed of that history and am sorry to those I hurt. There is nothing else I can really say.”
Making a statement that doesn’t attempt to excuse such transgressions, but instead acknowledges how abusive and manipulative the actions were, is certainly a step in the right direction. Still, explaining your behavior is not the same thing as changing it, especially LaBeouf has both his greater star power and traditional power dynamics in his favor (he is a white man, and Barnett is a woman of color). It may be a little bit too easy for his fans to let LaBeouf off the hook, given his frankly lackluster response.
When Barnett herself posted a Twitter thread about her abusive relationship, others shared their own experiences in response. Thankfully, most of the responses were supportive, many thanking Barnett for sharing her story and providing resources to others suffering from domestic abuse. Some replies even contained insight from other survivors’ own ordeals. By coming forward, Barnett created a space for others to feel comfortable sharing their own stories, a virtual place of solidarity.
However, because this is the internet, many have also made less-than-amicable remarks regarding Barnett’s experience. One Twitter user responded, “I'll need to know more about these organizations before I consider giving them a cent,” in reply to Barnett encouraging her followers to donate to FreeFrom, National Domestic Violence Hotline, and Sistah Space. Of course, that's a valid concern:if you are making a charitable donation, you should check that the organization you’re giving to is reputable. But: 1) Google is free, perhaps look them up yourself; and 2) replies such as these may discourage those who are interested in making meaningful monetary donations to these organizations.
And that Tweet is quite civil in comparison to others. One user accused Barnett of being a “clout chaser” (i.e. someone desperate for attention) in a tweet that has now been removed. Another user responded on the thread, “If it happened, she played a part in it. If she stayed she had a part in it. If she waited she wanted time to cover up her part in it.” For the record, no one suffering from domestic abuse needs to justify their reasons for remaining in an abusive relationship, and claiming that Barnett had “a part” in her own abuse is victim blaming.
fka twigs isn’t going to see your tweets about her being a clout chaser and shia labeouf isn’t going to see your tweets about him being incapable of abuse but the people in your life who are victims of abuse will and will feel like they just lost yet another person on their team— 𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐥𝐢𝐞 (@talliesinyoung) December 12, 2020
While responses such as these aren’t exactly few and far between, they are absolutely outnumbered by affirmative, supportive messages toward Barnett and towards other victims. As the #MeToo movement continues to unfold, creating safe spaces for victims continues to be of utmost importance. Thankfully, social media provides the resources for these kinds of spaces. Nonetheless, it can also enable and empower an environment of hatred and negativity.
Header image of FKA twigs via Wikimedia Commons.
An intern here at Bust, Vanessa Wolosz is completing her bachelor's degree University of St Andrews, where she studies English and Comparative Literature. Her parents are happy to report that she is an honors student, and are significantly less happy to report that her interests lie in researching body art, reading sci-fi, bleaching her own hair, and not-having-a-boyfriend. You can follow her on Twitter, @memelover100, though doing so is not recommended.