Content Warning: I encourage you to practice self-care when choosing to read this article. If this article causes things to come up for you about your own experience, please know resources are available. You can visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website at https://www.thehotline.org/. If you are in Athens, Ohio, you can visit the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program’s website at https://www.saopseoh.org/.
[Photo courtesy of NBC4 New York]
By Taylor Linzinmeir, Staff Writer
I woke up one cold morning in December 2020 to the news that English singer-songwriter FKA twigs, born Tahliah Debrett Barnett, had filed a civil lawsuit against her former boyfriend, Shia LaBeouf. I scoured the internet for information about the case as I picked sleep from my eyes. I sat in bed and cried.
The two met in 2018 on the set of Honey Boy, a movie written by LaBeouf in court-mandated rehab after being arrested in Savannah, Georgia, according to Elle Magazine. He spewed racial slurs at officers during the 2017 arrest.
The two dated for around nine months until publicly breaking up in 2019, blaming “conflicting work schedules” for the split, according to the BBC. Now, twigs is accusing LaBeouf of sexual assault, battery and inflicting emotional distress. Karolyn Pho, a stylist and also an ex of LaBeouf, has claims featured in the lawsuit as well.
In a statement to The New York Times, LaBeouf said, “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.”
Back tracking a bit, he later went on to add that many of the allegations were untrue, but that he is not “in any position to tell anyone how [his] behavior made them feel.”
The “behavior” LaBeouf refers to in that statement includes gaslighting, isolation and sexual abuse, behaviors that can only leave survivors feeling trapped and hurt.
LaBeouf started his abuse by testing twigs’ boundaries. He would jump over the fence of her residence and leave her gifts: things like flowers, poems and books, according to an interview with CBS This Morning.
“He would send me between 10 and 20 bunches of flowers a day for 10 days. Everytime I would sit down to work or watch something, the doorbell would ring, and it would be another three bunches of flowers. On the tag, each time, it would say ‘More love,’ ‘More love,’ More love,’” Twigs told Elle Magazine.
Acts like this may seem romantic at first, but it also allows abusers to see how far they can get away with invading your personal space.
Next, he began to gaslight twigs. In the interview with CBS This Morning, she said he would put her on a pedestal just to knock her back down and tell her she was worthless.
Behavior like this is characterized as “gaslighting.” According to Medical News Today, “gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality or memories.”
When people experience gaslighting, they may feel confused and unable to trust themselves.
In this case, LaBeouf switched between showering twigs with compliments and showering her with criticism. This could have made her question her own self-worth and severely impact her self-esteem, impairing her perception of herself and their relationship.
The gaslighting then turned physical, according to CBS This Morning. He would push her and tell her she fell, making Twigs confused and question if maybe he hadn’t really pushed her; maybe she really did just fall.
He made her kiss him at least 20 times a day, according to CBS This Morning. If she fell short, he would verbally abuse her, sometimes for so long that he prevented her from sleeping, according to Elle Magazine.
He often used sleep to psychologically abuse her like this. He would wake her up to accuse her of masturbating, calling her “disgusting,” according to Elle Magazine. He would wake her up to accuse her of plotting how to leave him. He kept a gun by his side of the bed and demanded she sleep naked.
During all of this, he was also isolating her, according to Elle Magazine. In one instance, LaBeouf started an argument because she was laughing on FaceTime with a friend. In another instance, he told her that if she really loved him, she would avoid making eye contact with other men.
“He made me feel like I wasn’t allowed joy, basically. That’s what it boils down to: I wasn’t allowed joy unless it directly revolved around him,” twigs told Elle Magazine. She added, “I used to get this feeling of intense fear and shame, and I would evaporate from people’s lives.”
The abuse came to a head just after Valentine’s day in 2019, according to the civil lawsuit. twigs said LaBeouf was driving recklessly home to Los Angeles after a stay in a hotel spa together. He began swerving into traffic, demanding twigs tell him she loved him.
“I thought, ‘Wow, he needs so much control over me that he would rather kill us both,” twigs told CBS This Morning.
People always ask why survivors of abuse don’t “just leave.” twigs told Elle Magazine. “If you put a frog in a boiling pot of water, that frog is going to jump out straightaway, whereas if you put a frog in cool water and heat it up slowly, that frog is going to boil to death. That was my experience being with [LaBeouf].”
twigs has money, fame and support. Still, she was stuck in an abusive relationship for almost a year. This goes to show how powerless abusers can make their partners feel. It also shows that this can happen to anyone, no matter their resources.
“People say that it couldn’t have been that bad or else you would have left. But no; it’s because it was that bad that I couldn’t leave,” Twigs told CBS This Morning.
twigs said that she initially didn’t want to file a civil suit against LaBeouf, according to CBS This Morning. She wanted him to give to charity, the hotline that she once called for help in leaving her abusive situation. She asked him to admit he gave her an STI and promise to be transparent with future partners. She also asked him to receive consistent psychiatric help so he wouldn’t abuse anyone else. twigs said it was because he did not do these things that she filed the suit against him.
LaBeouf has been getting away with abusive behavior like this for decades. LaBeouf was filmed in Germany in 2015 telling his then-girlfriend Mia Goth, “I don’t wanna touch you. I don’t wanna be aggressive. This is the kind of shit that makes a person abusive” during a public fight outside a hotel, according to CBS News.
LaBeouf is an excellent example of why we cannot separate the art from the artist. By not holding abusers accountable, it perpetuates the idea that any abusive artist, actor or musician can do whatever they want in their free time without any consequences to their career. It allows abusive men to feel comfortable being abusive because they know people will still buy their latest album or movie if it’s good enough. The current system allows abusers to both hold and abuse that power at will.
I cried on that cold December morning not because Shia LaBeouf used to be one of my favorite actors, but because I knew the horrible things he did to twigs weren’t enough to end his career. I cried because of one question that haunts me: at what point is it enough?