Warning: This piece contains details of domestic abuse.
Since The New York Times hit publish on a story detailing the lawsuit FKA Twigs, born Tahliah Debrett Barnett, filed against ex-boyfriend Shia LaBeouf at the end of last week, other accounts of the actor's history of inflicting emotional and physical abuse on his partners have surfaced and recirculated. All of these accounts were brought forward by women.
The singer Sia, who worked with LaBeouf on 2015's "Elastic Heart," took to Twitter to reveal how he had "conned" her into "an adulterous relationship claiming to be single." At the time, unbeknownst to her, the Honey Boy star was dating Mia Goth, whom he then married in 2016. One year before LaBeouf and Goth tied the knot, strangers recorded a video of the couple arguing. In the video, LaBeouf can be heard saying, "This is the kind of thing that makes a person abusive," and, "If I’d have stayed there, I would’ve killed her." (They separated in 2018.)
In Barnett's lawsuit, stylist Karolyn Pho spoke of the abuse she suffered at the hands of LaBeouf during their relationship (2011-2012), including one event in which he pinned her to the bed and head-butted her, drawing blood. Pho also spoke of his gaslighting tactics, which were corroborated by Barnett as she detailed the many ways in which he physically and psychologically violated her over the course of their one-year relationship.
Barnett also revealed that she had tried to tell a colleague of the abuse early on in the relationship, which was brushed off, leading her to think that "no one is ever going to believe me. I’m unconventional. And I’m a person of color who is a female.” Her coming forward, the NYT article said, was partly to "explain how even a critically acclaimed artist with money, a home, and a strong network of supporters could be caught in such a cycle."
After this story broke, social commentary erupted, much of it from male users who made light of the situation, joking and throwing accusations of "money grabs." As our own Instagram post regarding the story pointed out (and some responses in the comment section reflected), reactions like these are "a tragically common response to women public figures coming forward about abuse, and especially inappropriate considering these women risk retaliation from their abuser, re-traumatization, mass public gaslighting, and stigma as a result of speaking out."
Let's stick a pin in that observation for a minute and consider it in relation to the majority of stories — if not every story — concerning wealthy, famous abusers in recent memory: Octavian, Tory Lanez, Johnny Depp, the entire #MeToo movement. Now think about how many of those stories were brought into the public sphere by men, or by anyone working close to them. If you're struggling to name any, that's because the vast majority of those stories were broken by women. By the victim.
Your first reaction to that may be to point out how unlikely it is that an abuser will waltz up to the press on their own and throw their hands in the air, admitting their violence. And admittedly that surface-level reaction makes sense, but then it begs the questions: How many blind eyes does it take to keep a story of this magnitude quiet? Is a "strong network of supporters" just code for enablers? Why is it always women that must tackle the emotional labor involved in coming forward? Why is it that it's always the woman that needs to risk her safety and have the courage to speak up?
Why don't we see stories about men holding other men accountable? Why don't we question that?
To be clear: I am not here to bring you answers. I can spout theories about how these "support networks" are more concerned about clout and cash (as displayed in November's Octavian case, which saw the musician's former partner Emo Baby talk of being offered £20k to sign an NDA; an offer she says arrived shortly after he kicked her in the stomach while she was pregnant with his child). I can also spout theories about fan culture and about the toxic "bros before hoes" mentality that indicates a very real, very present mindset when it comes to men calling out other men. And while these are not theories but fact, I am sick of unpacking the various egotistical, fragile, and financial factors that stack up to form an aggressive, hetero man, and the people and industries that protect him.
It is not a woman's job to educate men on doing better. It's time you started doing that for one another.
The pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home regulations have led to an increase in domestic violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (US) and National Domestic Abuse Helpline (UK) to find out how to get help. You are not alone.