What’s the worst thing that could happen if you believe that Shia LaBeouf was raped?
I ask because plenty of people seem entirely unwilling to entertain that idea. For example:
Shia LaBeouf's claim to have been 'raped' is truly pathetic & demeans real rape victims. Grow up, you silly little man.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) November 28, 2014
It’s unclear how exactly believing a survivor “demeans” other survivors. There is not a limited amount of empathy and concern in the world. You can care about survivors like LaBeouf and you can care about survivors who look and act like whatever you think survivors should look and act like.
Some people have said that they can’t believe LaBeouf because he’s an “unreliable narrator.” I was initially tempted to look up and comment briefly on the actor’s apparent history of twisting the truth, but then I realized that it absolutely doesn’t matter. Everyone lies, albeit to varying extents, and lying about rape in particular is so rare that I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt even if he has lied about other things before.
At the Guardian, Daily Dot contributor Lindy West writes:
A victim doesn’t have to be relatable or reliable or likable or ‘normal’–or even a good person–for you to believe them. You can be utterly baffled by someone’s every move and still take their victimization seriously. LaBeouf’s bizarre behavior and his sexual violation are in no way mutually exclusive, nor are the latter and his gender. ‘He was asking for it.’ ‘Why didn’t he fight back?’ ‘Why didn’t he say ‘no’?’ ‘He must have wanted it.’ ‘He seems crazy.’ These are flat-out unacceptable things to say to a person of any gender.
Others have pointed out that LaBeouf did not resist the alleged rape. Some of them acknowledge that survivors often “freeze” and are physically unable to resist, but claim that because LaBeouf has stated that for him the reason was that he did not want to compromise his performance art piece, then it’s not “really” rape.
I will grant that this may seem confusing. After all, if he was able to stop the rape but didn’t, how is it still rape? If he allowed it to happen “for art’s sake,” isn’t that the same as wanting it to happen?
It’s pretty simple, and thinking of rape in terms of affirmative consent may help. Did LaBeouf make it absolutely clear that he wanted this woman to have sex with him? Did he verbally or nonverbally indicate that in a way that would be unmistakable?
No, he didn’t. She could not have known whether or not he wanted to have sex given the information that she had. Therefore, it was her responsibility, performance art notwithstanding, to either get affirmative consent or to not have sex with him.
The art aspect also adds a dimension to this story that bears exploring: namely, just because LaBeouf “allowed” the rape to happen in order to keep his performance piece going doesn’t mean that he didn’t also freeze up in the way many victims do. It’s also likely that ending the piece prematurely by actively resisting his rapist would have brought heaps of criticism onto him, too. Given our society’s attitudes about rape, especially male victims of rape, it’s doubtful that the people who are refusing to believe him now would have taken him any more seriously had he resisted. Instead of “Why didn’t you stop her?,” people would be asking, “Why didn’t you want it?”
Of course, the concern about false rape accusations is often that an innocent person will have to face a trial—and possibly go to prison. But LaBeouf has not named his rapist—it seems that he doesn’t even know her name—and there is no indication that he is pressing charges.
No innocent person will be shamed, prosecuted, or imprisoned. The only thing at stake is whether or not we believe someone who is claiming to have been raped. That is all.
So, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you believe that Shia LaBeouf was raped?
You might have to sympathize with someone you don’t personally like.
You might have to let go of the idea that men always want sex from all women and therefore cannot be raped by women.
You might have to acknowledge that not everything done in the name of art is ethical or acceptable.
You might have to understand that it is never the victim’s responsibility to “resist” and physically prevent their own rape.
On the other hand, the worst thing that could happen if you do not believe that Shia LaBeouf was raped is that yet another survivor will be shamed and silenced, and future survivors—especially men—will be even less likely to come forward.
Even if LaBeouf is actually lying, that’s still the message that we’d send. I’m willing to take a small risk of being wrong in order to avoid sending it.