Anyone claiming to have been raped has to be wary of non-believers, but when the person assaulted is a man—and a famous, troubled one—the doubters grow.
Shia LaBeouf, an actor known for starring in the Transformers franchise and, more recently, for being arrested for disorderly conduct at a performance of Cabaret, said he was raped during his art performance-art piece #IAMSORRY. During the show, he wore a brown paper bag scrawled with the words “I AM NOT FAMOUS ANYMORE” and let viewers interact with him—alone in a room, sometimes with a prop such as candy or a plastic whip—however they wanted.
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His revelation resulted in support, but also disbelief, with the incredulity being spearheaded by another famous man. “Shia LaBeouf’s claim to have been ‘raped’ is truly pathetic & demeans real rape victims,” British television personality Piers Morgan tweeted. “Grow up, you silly little man…A Hollywood actor sitting with a paper bag over his head who did nothing as he claims a woman ‘raped’ him has not been raped.”
Joseph Snook, an investigator with the U.S. Observer who helps vindicate people who are wrongly charged, tells Yahoo Style that male rape cases are rarely prosecuted because the police and attorneys don’t think they can get a conviction. “It’s not about justice,” he says. “It’s about winning the case. Society doesn’t see men as targets. There’s the idea of the alpha male, of ‘you can protect yourself.’ Rape isn’t perceived as possible.”
Women have been more understanding of the actor. On female-centered website Jezebel.com, writer Madeleine Davies called Morgan a “dick bucket” while Patti Greco on Cosmopolitan.com wrote, “Many of Morgan’s followers called him out for victim-shaming — which is indeed what he was doing.”
LaBeouf revealed the rape in an email interview with Dazed, when asked if there had been any “unsettling” moments during #IAMSORRY. “One woman who came with her boyfriend, who was outside the door when this happened, whipped my legs for ten minutes and then stripped my clothing and proceeded to rape me…,” LaBeouf wrote. “There were hundreds of people in line when she walked out with disheveled hair and smudged lipstick.”
In response to Morgan’s tweets doubting the rape, the two artists who collaborated with LaBeouf on the project, Luke Turner and Nastja Sade Ronkko, confirmed that it did happen. “As soon as we were aware of the incident starting to occur, we put a stop to it and ensured that the woman left,” Turner tweeted.
In surveys, men have reported being raped, whether by a woman or another man. According to the 2010 Center for Disease Control’s national survey on sexual violence, more than 5 million men in the United States have been “made to penetrate” someone else in their lifetime, whether by coercion, intimidation, or because they were incapacitated.
But, in the justice system, there are very few instances of these incidents being prosecuted, especially if the accused rapist is a woman. In September, a 26-year-old Seattle woman, Chantae Gilman, was charged with second-degree rape after a man reportedly awoke from a deep sleep and found her on top of him in his bed. She pleaded innocent.
In the interview with Dazed, LaBeouf doesn’t explain why he didn’t report the rape to the police, but Snook says that most men keep assaults to themselves because it’s shameful to admit they couldn’t defend themselves.
“People think, ‘A man’s stronger than a woman,’” Snook says. “‘He can fight off someone.’ So a guy thinks, ‘If I come forward, I’m doing more harm than good. Everyone will know what happened to me and I’ll have to deal with that.’”