ARTS + CULTURE
FKA Twigs and believing women
5th March 2021
“No one is gonna believe me” were the painful words FKA Twigs uttered in an interview with Louis Theroux, where she detailed the harrowing abuse she endured at the hands of actor Shia LaBeouf. The famous avant-pop singer-songwriter, born Tahliah Barnett, filed a lawsuit against LaBeouf last December, alleging sexual battery, battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and gross negligence. This sent shockwaves through social media despite his very public displays of violence and recklessness in the past.
Twigs made the courageous decision to go public with her story in order to help others recognise the warning signs of domestic abuse that she experienced with LaBeouf. These red-flags arose at the very beginning of their relationship during a so-called honeymoon phase where she describes “intense love bombing [and] big displays of affection”. This is a tactic used by many abusers to gain trust, love, and admiration from their victims. When the abuse started, it was gradual, chipping away at her self-esteem and testing her physical and emotional boundaries. Then his anger escalated and anything as innocent as eye contact with another man sent LaBeouf into a fit of rage that could last days. For Twigs, this was a nightmare with no escape, not even in her sleep, where he would regularly wake her up accusing her of masturbating or lusting over other men. This emotional and physical abuse escalated on Valentine’s Day 2019 when LaBeouf drove erratically through the desert, threatening to crash the car unless she professed her love to him. Fearing for her life, she tried to escape at a gas station but he “threw [her] against the car and attempted to strangle her violently”. Twigs endured abuse like this for months on end till she eventually escaped with the support of her therapist, friends, and family.
These revelations shocked the public and led to an outpouring of support from fans and other celebrities such as Sia, Margaret Qualley, and Olivia Wilde. Yet, unsurprisingly, the excuses for LaBeouf’s behaviour began flooding in, along with the stench of misogyny. Many, including Shia himself, pointed to his history of addiction as an excuse for his violent behaviour. However, Women’s Aid has taken a strong stand against this rationalisation of abuse, saying it is the perpetrator alone who is responsible for their actions, highlighting that there are many struggling with addiction who are not violent. The actor’s poor mental health has also been used to justify the insidious abuse he inflicted on Twigs. However, no research actually finds a connection between mental health problems and becoming an abuser. So, why are these text-book excuses still being used to absolve abusers of guilt? Why do we not afford the same empathy to their victims? Then there are some who simply believe him because he is Shia LaBeouf. They believe him because he is a man and he is a powerful one. This phenomenon is dubbed “himpathy” because we are inclined to believe men while vilifying women and labelling them untrustworthy.
“As a society, we often place the blame on female victims of abuse, asking them insensitive questions such as “Why didn’t you leave?” as if they had a choice.”
The actor’s violent past against women seems to be conveniently overlooked by the people who have chosen to discredit Twigs’ statement. It doesn’t seem to matter that his former girlfriend Karolyn Pho filed a lawsuit against him alleging abuse. It seems irrelevant that he was caught on a video saying “I would have killed her” about his ex-wife during a violent altercation. Like so many other powerful men, his successful career is enough to absolve him of any guilt in these situations. People often choose to defend the behaviour of their favourite celebrities because it’s easier than confronting the fact that their hero is a monster. The same response occurs every time allegations are made against a big star in Hollywood. Ignoring the violent pasts of figures like Bill Cosby and Roman Polanski means that we can keep the happy memories of our favourite TV shows and movies at the expense of countless women who are victims of their crimes. This is why so many fans of the accused’s films have come to his defence. But Shia LaBeouf’s resume is not evidence of his innocence.
As a society, we often place the blame on female victims of abuse, asking them insensitive questions such as “Why didn’t you leave?” as if they had a choice. FKA Twigs shut down this question from multiple interviewers including Louis Theroux and Gayle King. She rightfully asserts that this pushes a narrative that women are responsible for the abuse inflicted upon them. Instead, she reframes the question, imploring interviewers to ask abusers “Why are you holding someone hostage?”. People who have no first-hand experience of abuse may not understand how difficult it is for victims to escape. Leaving is often the most dangerous part of an abusive relationship with more than 70% of domestic violence murders happening after the victim has gotten out. Black women like Twigs are even more vulnerable with 51.3% of all Black adult female murders being related to intimate partner violence. It is not as easy as walking out the front door when you have a figurative gun pointed at your head. The process of leaving LaBeouf was a gruelling one, where she had to “gather enough of [herself] together” to successfully get out. She did this by going to therapy twice a week, receiving help from her close friends, and moving back to London. Thankfully, Twigs could afford the financial costs of these steps, which is a privilege she recognises many other women are deprived of.
Twigs’ story is shifting the conversation around domestic abuse. She is using her traumatic experience to eliminate the stigma surrounding victims and shut down language which blames them. It is time we start listening to women like FKA Twigs and stop protecting men who have already shown us their true character.