“I don’t want to touch a woman, I don’t want to hit a woman, but I’m being pushed,” Shia Labeouf says in a dark, grainy 2015 video. He’s speaking to two unknown men on the street in Tübingen, Germany, and the woman he’s referencing is his then-girlfriend Mia Goth, who in the video is begging him not to leave and refusing to give Labeouf his backpack.
The obvious grossness in what LaBeouf says—“I don’t want to hit a woman, but I’m being pushed”—is that he is talking about hitting his girlfriend in a way that suggests a woman can provoke a man into hitting her, despite his most earnest efforts to restrain himself.
Less obvious is the fact that LaBeouf uses passive voice as he makes this suggestion. By saying “I’m being pushed,” he leaves out the subject of the sentence—the entity that is doing the pushing. By framing his prospective violence in this way, he absolves everyone of guilt, including his girlfriend. If he hits her, he won’t blame her for it. He’ll continue to be the kind of guy who wouldn’t dream of accusing a woman of “making him” hit her. But he also wouldn’t blaming himself. He would have “been pushed” … by a mysterious, unnamed entity. He had no choice and yet no one, technically, is to blame. Later in the video, as the two men are driving LaBeouf to the airport, LaBeouf drops the passive voice. “If I’d have stayed there,” he tells the two men, “I would have killed her.”
This 2015 video of the altercation has resurfaced as part of a renewed discussion about LaBeouf’s alleged abusive actions toward women. Former girlfriend FKA Twigs, a 32-year-old singer-songwriter, dancer, and actress whose legal name is Tahliah Debrett Barnett, filed a lawsuit against LaBeouf on December 11 in Los Angeles Superior Court. In the suit, Twigs alleges “relentless abuse,” describing numerous specific instances in detail, including 34-year-old LaBeouf driving recklessly, removing his seatbelt and threatening to crash if Twigs didn’t declare her love for him; physically assaulting her; waking her up in the middle of the night and choking her; and knowingly giving her a sexually transmitted disease.
LaBeouf responded to the filing of the suit in an email to the New York Times, and his limp non-apology is reminiscent of the blame-avoidant, passive language LaBeouf used when preemptively defending himself against possibly hitting—or killing—Mia Goth in 2015. “I’m not in any position to tell anyone how my behavior made them feel,” he said in the email. “I have no excuses for my alcoholism or aggression, only rationalizations. 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.”
In a separate email to the New York Times, in which he responds to a detailed account of the accusations against him, LaBeouf wrote that “many of these allegations are not true.” He also wrote that he was “a sober member of a 12-step program” and undergoing therapy. “I am not cured of my PTSD and alcoholism,” he wrote, “but I am committed to doing what I need to do to recover, and I will forever be sorry to the people that I may have harmed along the way.”
I don’t know if LaBeouf has a legal team advising him on what to say and how to say it, but these are not apologies, and there is much to infer from what he says and does not say, none of it good. First, he plays the victim: “I have been abusive to myself and everyone around me for years. I have a history of hurting the people closest to me.” No, LaBeouf. We do not care if you have also abused yourself in addition to those around you. Focus on the “those around you.”
Second, if “many of these allegations” are not true, that means that at least some of them are. Any one of the actions LaBeouf stands accused of warrants the need for major intervention. Third, LaBeouf appears not to understand that one cannot be “cured” of either PTSD or alcoholism. Both PTSD and alcoholism require ongoing management and treatment. Neither have a cure.
And finally, “I will forever be sorry to the people that I may have harmed along the way” is neither an admission of wrongdoing nor an apology, despite the inclusion of the word “sorry.” None of LaBeouf’s email makes me feel better about him, his commitment to improving himself, or his intent to make amends.
The weekend following the filing of the suit, 44-year-old singer-songwriter Sia tweeted her support for FKA Twigs, saying, “I too have been hurt emotionally by Shia, a pathological liar, who conned me into an adulterous relationship claiming to be single. I believe he’s very sick and have compassion for him AND his victims. Just know, if you love yourself- stay safe, stay away.”
A few months ago, I stumbled upon a year-old YouTube video of Shia LaBeouf and Kristen Stewart interviewing each other, actor to actor. I like Stewart, so I let myself get sucked into the interview. LaBeouf’s demeanor bothered me. His questioning style was pushy and presumptuous—he bounced between calling into question Stewart’s responses and expressing his awe of her. His behavior reminded me of guys I’ve known in the past who were deeply insecure and used gaslighting to push down whoever else was in the room with them so they could appear superior. He came off as desperate to portray an aura of edgy, wild-eyed genius, encouraging and condescending at the same time.
I thought I was reading into it too much. But now, with the allegations against LeBeouf and his self-absorbed non-apology, I think my gut feeling was right on the money.
And here’s the thing. Mr. LaBeouf, you don’t get to blame your shitty, violent behavior on alcoholism and PTSD. That’s not how this works. Sia suggested to others that they keep away from you. She expressed compassion for you even as she called you out. And you may very well be struggling with addiction and with past traumas. You may honestly need help with those things. But until you get that help, until you can learn to control yourself, to be honest with others and yourself, to fully admit fault and commit to changing your behavior, you need to stay far away from women. Not the other way around.
It isn’t any woman’s responsibility to live with the kind of paranoia that requires her to keep distance lest any potential love interest turn out to be an abusive shitbag. It’s your responsibility to keep your distance, Mr. LaBeouf. Take some time. Get the help you need. But until you can fully own the way you’ve treated these women and learn self-control, none of the rest of us want a damn thing more to do with you.
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