Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

FKA twigs sues Shia LaBeouf for sexual battery and “relentless abuse”

Left: FKA twigs; Right: Shia LaBeouf (Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images); Right: Shia LaBeouf
Left: FKA twigs; Right: Shia LaBeouf (Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images); Right: Shia LaBeouf
Photo: Jon Kopaloff Getty Images (Getty Images)

In an interview with The New York Times, multi-hyphenate performer FKA twigs disclosed that her relationship with Shia LaBeouf, which began in 2018 when they worked together on Honey Boy, was one of “relentless abuse.” FKA twigs, whose real name is Tahliah Debrett Barnett, tells the Times’ Katie Benner and Melena Ryzik that she decided to speak up about LaBeouf’s behavior and what she endured in order to “raise awareness on the tactics that abusers use to control you and take away your agency.” Barnett’s statements accompany the filing of a lawsuit in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, which accuses LaBeouf of “sexual battery, assault and infliction of mental distress,” as well as “knowingly [giving] Barnett a sexually transmitted disease.”

Throughout the harrowing feature, the Mary Magdalene artist recalls alleged violent encounters with LaBeouf, which are also detailed in the lawsuit. According to the court filings, a Valentine’s Day 2019 trip to the desert ended with the Transformers franchise actor “driving recklessly… removing his seatbelt and threatening to crash unless she professed her love for him.” When Barnett “begged to be let out of the car,” LaBeouf pulled over to a gas station to let her leave, but ended up “throwing her against the car while screaming in her face according to the suit. He then forced her back in the car.” In one of the most revealing and dispiriting passages, Barnett says no one at the gas station tried to help her when LaBeouf allegedly assaulted her. She tried to tell a colleague about LaBeouf’s behavior only to be “brushed off.” “I just thought to myself, no one is ever going to believe me,” Barnett tells the Times. “I’m unconventional. And I’m a person of color who is a female.”

The Valentine’s Day 2019 incident is central to the lawsuit, which includes claims of physical, emotional, and mental abuse during the course of LaBeouf and Barnett’s relationship. The filings also include statements from Karolyn Pho, a stylist and former girlfriend of LaBeouf’s who related “similarly tumultuous experiences” to the Times. Pho alleges LaBeouf once “drunkenly pinned her to a bed and head-butted her, enough that she bled.” Pho tells the NYT it took her time to reckon with the abuse, in part because “So much goes into breaking down a man or woman to make them OK with a certain kind of treatment.”

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In the lawsuit, Barnett also alleges that LaBeouf “kept a loaded firearm by the bed and that she was scared to use the bathroom at night lest he mistake her for an intruder and shoot her.” She says LaBeouf would turn any disagreement into “an all-night fight, depriving her of sleep,” isolated her from friends and collaborators, and once locked her in a room and yelled at her when she tried to leave him. Barnett says it took multiple tries and the help of a therapist to finally leave LaBeouf. “He brought me so low, below myself, that the idea of leaving him and having to work myself back up just seemed impossible,” the singer-songwriter says. According to the suit, Barnett plans to donate “a significant portion of any monetary damages to domestic-violence charities.”

In response to Barnett’s statements, LaBeouf sent this email to The New York Times:

“I’m not in any position to tell anyone how my behavior made them feel. “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. There is nothing else I can really say.”

Though the actor and his rep have yet to officially comment on Barnett’s suit, LaBeouf did send a separate email to the Times about the allegations, “many” of which he says “are not true.” But he also noted that he “owes the women ‘the opportunity to air their statements publicly and accept accountability for those things I have done.’” LaBeouf has a well-documented history of what the article calls “turbulent behavior.” According to the NYT research of newspapers and public records, the actor has been arrested multiple times for assault and disorderly conduct, though the charges were ultimately dismissed including assault and disorderly conduct, according to newspaper reports and public records. And in 2015, he was recorded arguing with then-girlfriend Mia Goth, telling the people recording the fight, on camera, that “If I’d have stayed there, I would’ve killed her.”

Barnett tells the Times it was important to come forward with her story now, because “[w]hat I went through with Shia was the worst thing I’ve ever been through in the whole of my life. I don’t think people would ever think that it would happen to me. But I think that’s the thing. It can happen to anybody.”

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If you or someone you know in the U.S. has been affected by sexual violence, help is available 24/7 through RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and online.rainn.org.

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