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The silence of Shia LaBeouf

What to make of this?

Shia LaBeouf: I was raped during performance art project

In an interview with Dazed, the actor says that a woman ‘whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me’ during his silent performance art work #IAMSORRY

My question “what to make of this?” is a real one. There is a whole slew of issues involved in this story, ranging from the double standard surrounding female-on-male rape (or allegations of rape), to the extent to which silence can be taken to be consent (particularly the absence of any appeal to bystanders when they were present), and including issues of fairness to the woman accused of rape and to the spectators implicitly accused of indifference to it, and the propriety of staging such an event “starring” a person whom all sides admit has mental issues, which leads us to the politically-charged question of how far one should question the testimony of one who is or may be mentally incapable . . .

Frustratingly, the Guardian story gives much more detail on LaBeouf’s philosophy of art than on what actually happened. A follow-up story quotes his collaborators in the art project as saying they “put a stop to it” as soon as they became aware of it. No mention is made of force being used; apparently she did stop when told to.

So why didn’t Mr LaBeouf say a word to stop her himself? As far as I can make out his reason was because the point of his performance was that he should sit still and not react. On its own, “I could not object because it would have spoiled my artwork” appears ridiculous. Yet people do sometimes freeze when subjected to sexual assault in a public place; it is a common reaction when women are groped on trains, for instance. Then again, what might the woman say in her own defence if these charges were put to her? Was not the whole point of this famous artwork that Mr LaBeouf consented to being humiliated? What did the spectators think was going on? If, as seems to have been the case, his artistic collaborators held that this was something to which a stop should be put, why was no attempt made to arrest the woman? In general I reject the blanket assumption that a person initiating sexual activity must obtain explicit and ongoing verbal assent before continuing. Such an assumption would only apply to creatures not human; the vast majority of all voluntary sexual intercourse takes place without anything remotely resembling such a procedure. But the vast majority of all sexual intercourse does not take place between strangers in public during performance art.

My bewilderment is genuine. All serious comments are welcome, and I would not be surprised to see serious disagreement among the comments. I do not expect to delete remotely as high a proportion of comments as the Guardian moderators did to the comments to the account in the link, but will not hesitate to delete any of which I disapprove.

31 comments to The silence of Shia LaBeouf

  • sconzey

    His “performance” required him to be silent. Whether or not silence can be assumed to be consent at other times (and I think mainly no, but it is complex), it should definitely not be taken as a sign of consent here.

  • sconzey

    Ah, disregard that. That will teach me to comment before reading the whole thing.

  • “I was raped during a tricky sudoku puzzle” says idiot.

    “Yeah, she started having sex with me, which, as you’d expect, was a little distracting. I did think about asking her to stop, but I was so engrossed in my sudoku puzzle that I couldn’t be bothered, so I just let her have at it. Then my missus came in and said “Here! What’s all this I hear about some woman having sex with you?” But I didn’t reply because I was trying to finish off a row. I needed a 4,6 and 9, if that helps set the scene for you. She asked again, but, having found the 6 I was still looking for the 4 and 9, so, I mean, what was I meant to do? I take my sudoku very, very seriously.”

    No, of course he wasn’t fucking raped. Calling it rape is an absolutely monstrous thing to do. It’s spitting in the face of women and men who have been victimized, who have been brutalized. He should be absolutely ashamed of himself, the fucking attention seeking bastard that he is.

  • woodsy42

    But maybe she didn’t do it for sex, it was her performance art.

  • Paul Marks

    Rocco is correct.

    The “artist” is clearly a publicity seeking scumbag.

    If Mr LeBeouf ever is raped he will regret having talked such nonsense.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)


    People do freeze. I’ve never been raped, or sexually assaulted in anything other than a trivial manner, but I was once hit in the face by a mad old man who evidently thought I was someone who had wronged him in his past life. I saw the blow coming. He was old and enfeebled, I could have dodged or blocked it easily, or knocked him down myself. I did none of these things because I couldn’t quite make myself believe it was happening until it did.

  • Yes, Natalie. But this _ didn’t. When his girlfriend came in and asked about it, he didn’t reply. Not because he was traumatized or anything so mundane, but because he didn’t want to compromise the artistic integrity of the piece. He wasn’t restrained, wasn’t gagged. He made a choice to (excuse me) get his end away and get a story out of it

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    “He wasn’t restrained, wasn’t gagged.”

    But he probably was – I’d be skirting libel myself here were his problems not very much public knowledge – off his head, either via his addiction to cocaine or because all his recent weird behaviour is self-admittedly a symptom of a “wider problem.” I would be interested to know if he was visibly high or in a peculiar mental state. The answer to that would definitely affect how severely whatever took place should be regarded.

    Yet I do see your point. If you had made the opposite point I would probably have made the opposite response. That is what makes this case so undeniably interesting, with apologies to those for whom it might be distressing as well.

  • Mr Ed

    Who is Mr Shia laBouef?

    Why ought one pay attention?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    If a crime has been committed, Mr Ed, one ought to pay attention, however obscure or annoying the victim.


  • Vinegar Joe

    Surrealism is back in vogue? Or is it Dadaism?

  • Mr Ed


    Volenti non fit injuria.

    Causing wasteful employment of police time is a crime.

  • George Atkisson

    It is now (by design) impossible to debate or discuss rape, or art itself, for that matter. The definitions are so broad, convoluted, and contradictory, that even the subject of debate cannot be agreed upon. Throw in competing narratives which shall not be questioned and any rational person simply shrugs and walks away.

    The end result is that all the players can claim unchallenged victory and vindication and go their merry ways. Truth and reality are banned due to being cis-gendered white patriarchal constructs.

    Copy Book Headings, anyone?

  • Kevin B

    I probably spend too much time over at David Thompson’s site, but I’m starting to think the whole ‘Social Justice Warrior’, ‘rape culture’, ‘feminism’, indeed the whole of student progressive leftism is a giant performance art happening* and we are being played as mug punters, while paying for the whole stupid thing.

    *As it was called when I were a lad.

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Maybe the answer is simply to refuse to take Mr. LeBoeuf, or anything he says, seriously? At the very least, let him first prove he isn’t just another poseur striking a pose.

  • bloke in spain

    Looking through the comments under the article & judging by the responses to, looks like the CiF moderators have excised all the best gags.

  • Tedd


    With respect, those of us who aren’t involved ought only to be interested in a crime if it raises interesting questions beyond the scope of that particular crime. Otherwise, it’s just gossip.

    I think the moral status of the woman’s actions in this case is an interesting question. But I haven’t yet made up my mind what, if anything, I have to say about it.

  • It’s important to note that the “Social Justice Warrior” notion of “Rape Culture” only refers to women as victims.

    In the SJW notion, men are never raped, nor sexually assaulted. They are always the predator.

    Therefore, in SJW theology, Shia LaBeouf is a liar, heretic, and worthy of all scorn.

  • Nick (Natural Genius) Gray

    In victimism, the one claiming to be the victim is the winner. It is up to the woman to prove she is ‘innocent’, whatever that means these days.

  • Julie near Chicago

    I think this story raises the very real question of whether a person who endures being mistreated in some fashion because some principle he has adopted demands it

    Let me re-cast the issue a little bit. Suppose X has some principle that he is adamant about following, come what may.

    At a time when he is actively following this principle, he is treated in a way that is generally considered criminal. Yet he makes no complaint and indeed does not respond at all.

    This sort of thing does happen. There are people who will stick to their guns through torture, until either they become unhinged, or are forced into “cooperation” with drugs, or die.

    There are people who are trained to withstand physical pain to a remarkable degree, among them certain religious folk, if my understanding is correct (perhaps it’s all legend, but I doubt that).

    I have the impression also that some people experience intensified sexual pleasure when they are prohibited from allowing themselves to respond to it.

    I don’t know anything about Mr. Cow except that I’ve seen his name. I don’t know if he’s nuts or not, nor whether he’s telling the truth, nor whether anybody else in this farrago is. But I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he was indeed putting up with (even he might also have been enjoying) the rape, or “rape,” because to put up with whatever came his way was the entire point of his project.

    When you permit yourself to be abused in order to escape some worse condition, does that count as “consent,” and if it does, is it that variety of “consent” which exculpates the abuser? Or is this an artificial distinction because by definition, all consent exculpates the aggressing party?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Oops. Firs, incomplete para was a false start that I forgot to delete. Please ignore. Apologies.

  • Having considered the circumstances as presented (or so I hope – please tell me if I’m still missing something), the only way this could be considered rape in the true, non-PC sense of the word, is if the victim froze out of panic or some other psychological or biological reason. As Natalie says, such things are far from being unheard of. However, such an occurrence is only relevant to the rape question if the victim had not otherwise explicitly invited such actions – as in this case he clearly did: he put on a show where he more or less said ‘You all can come and do to me whatever you like, and I will not respond’. Where ‘whatever you like’ should reasonably be read as ‘anything not clearly illegal’, and performing a sexual act on someone is far from being clearly illegal, even in this PC day and age. And, where ‘I will not respond’ does not mean ‘I will not respond because I will involuntarily freeze’, but ‘because that is what I choose to do in my show’.

    Me, I’m with those who see this as a publicity stunt, which in no way precludes the Artist being mentally unhealthy and in need of professional help.

  • Just to throw fuel on the conversation. Christian Michel gave a talk on the issue of consent, including it’s own lurid examples:


    The one I flashed to when I read Julie’s comment is the example of the robber with the gun, who creates a set of circumstances in which one “consents” to give away their money. In this instance, the victim has created the circumstances of his “rape”. Normally would say that acquiescing to a robber is not “consent”, and this “rape” is it’s opposite-in-principal, so is it rape? I think not.

  • Watchman

    Surely Shia LeBoeuf was only raped if a court says so. Otherwise he believes he was raped, which is a different order of fact (not that he is necesarily wrong to believe this, as we lack much of the possible evidence). This is a distinction often missed in online writings on rape.

    Rape should be a problem for anyone of a libertarian bent – it is forcing someone to do something they do not wish, and an individual doing this is equally evil to a government doing this (indeed, I’d argue as government has no corporeal existence that is not individual people, it is the same thing) – but the use of it as a political and social tool is concerning. Cases like this are perhaps useful in illustrating how uncertain most of this is, and that the terms of the ‘debate’ (or monologue) are rather to simple and deterministic.

    Incidentally, I have at times been incapable of dealing with what is going on around me, and that is simply mild depression (at its worst) – if Mr Lebeouf has any issues, which I cannot speak on, acting by withdrawing is hardly unexpected. How many of us have not actually at times felt outside their body when things are happening.

  • Cal

    >But he probably was – I’d be skirting libel myself here were his problems not very much public knowledge – off his head, either via his addiction to cocaine

    Being on coke doesn’t make it rape. (Well, unless you’re a woman and you’ve had sex with a footballer that you later regret).

    I seriously doubt he was on coke, though. This was supposed to be a piece of performance art in which he stayed entirely silent for long periods of time. Rather difficult to do that when on coke.

  • JohnW

    It’s hard not to laugh at these Hollywood fools.

  • Nick (Natural Genius) Gray

    He’s just trying to escape child support payments! I must try that at any future court. It’s more original than ‘The dog ate my condom.’

  • Me, yesterday:

    “In this instance, the victim has created the circumstances of his “rape””

    This case does reward further thought! The above is not a satisfactory condition, since any person e.g. going to a risky part of town or wearing provocative clothing, would have likewise created some part of the circumstances and in such cases we usually say the responsibility indeed lies with the alleged “attacker”.

    What is actually making me uncomfortable with applying the word is that the stated reason for inaction – his art – is insufficient to explain it. It was his state of mind “I will not move” that is of his own creation.

  • Julie near Chicago

    JohnW, thanks for the link. All I can say is, Mr. Damon pretty clearly believes what he reads in the papers. Putting it another way, he doesn’t know what the h*** he’s talking about.

    He also doesn’t look any less of twerp just because of the new tonsure. Yul Brynner and Bruce Willis get away with it, but Damon is no Yul Brynner. (I like Bruce, even though mostly I’m not entirely sure he’s a great actor. *g*)

  • Julie near Chicago

    Simon, your latest thought prompts another example, which is that of men who have stayed at their posts in Communist countries so as to pass intelligence to the West, despite knowing that almost certainly they would eventually be discovered and killed (and lucky if they escaped some sort of torture first). Did they create the conditions of their death? Certainly, within the context of the other circumstances of the time. Shall we then say that they committed “suicide by cop”? To paraphrase: “It was their state of mind ‘I will not defect/I will not quit/I will not move‘ that was their own creation.”

    No, because their objective was not death; death was only a near-certain side effect of the pursuit of their real objective. The blame or fault attaches to the killers and the regime and its policies. They were murderers in fact, though perhaps not from their own point of view (to them perhaps the killing may have been just).

    For the case in point, one wonders about the method of the rape, or “rape,” and whether that makes a difference. (Was penetration involved?) Was it worse (more painful; or more humiliating) than the lashing?

    Public humiliation. It strikes me that Mr. LaBoeuf might actually have been engaging in what was to him an act of public atonement for past sins and for being, in fact, who he is. Sounds pretty messed-up, but contrast with T. Kennedy, whose entire life seemed dedicated to s******* on his country, its idea of decent human behavior, and its non-elite people. (But then, I expect he was pretty messed-up too.) Chappaquiddick is what he should have atoned for, publicly and with dedication.

    Or, of course, the whole thing was a publicity stunt, and “I never expected to be actually attacked in such a heinous manner! I am not Mr. Cow’s therapist and have no idea.

    Anyway, whoever said it above was right: This is not (primarily) either Hollywood Confidential nor a gossip column. What’s important for Samizdatistas is the issues the incident raises.

  • David Edwards

    Now that all the furor over this incident has quieted there has also been time for reflection. The whole ambiance or feel surrounding the alleged “rape” seems very much changed. Originally I was tempted to believe that Shia had indeed been sexually assaulted. My calmer mind has reached a totally different conclusion: this event was planned as part of the art performance to elicit exactly the many and varied responses that it did. The surrounding controversy was actually part of the living portrait. I feel this ” performance ” can be seen as a great success for Performance Art. But it leaves me to answer such questions as whether means does justify the end & the true value ( if any ) of art just for the sake of art.