In early December, singer and actress FKA Twigs filed a lawsuit against former boyfriend and "Transformers" star, Shia LaBeouf, and accused the actor of "relentless abuse" during their relationship. In her official statement, she claimed that he subjected her to sexual battery, sexual assault, and emotional distress as reported by the New York Times.
In an interview with the NYT, she describes the harrowing incidents of abuse. She said that he once woke her up in the middle of the night, choking her. In a recent incident when they were in the car together, he was driving the car recklessly to force her to profess her love for him. When she begged him to be let out of the car, he pulled over at a gas station. She tried to escape there but he followed her, assaulted her, and threw her against the car while screaming in her face. Later, he forced her into the car.
Twigs also accused LaBeouf of sexually transmitting an infection to her and of sexual battery which, according to the Los Angeles Superior Court, is considered a misdemeanor crime by California Health and Safety Code. The reason she publicly came out with her experience was to explain how even a critically acclaimed artist with money, a home, and a strong network of supporters could be caught in such a cycle. “I’d like to be able to raise awareness on the tactics that abusers use to control you and take away your agency,” FKA twigs or Tahliah Debrett Barnett, said.
What was Shia LaBeouf's response to the allegations by Twigs?
LaBeouf, who was previously also been accused of sexual assault by Karolyn Pho, a stylist who LaBeouf dated for a year, has expressed remorse but denied the allegations.
He wrote in an email to the 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.” In a separate email, LaBeouf added that “many of these allegations are not true.” However, he said that he owed his alleged victim(s), “the opportunity to air their statements publicly and accept accountability for those things I have done.”
When Twigs filed her lawsuit, she made a distinction between sexual assault and sexual battery. With the word "sexual" appearing in both crimes, people may assume both are interchangeable to a large extent but their meanings differ in legal terminology.
What is the difference between sexual assault and sexual battery?
Sexual battery is defined as intimate touching against one's will for the purpose of sexual gratification or sexual abuse, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) in the US. Sexual battery is considered a felony punishable by up to four years in prison, along with a fine. This law only applies to the US as in India, there is no specific law dealing with sexual battery.
According to the California-based Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault, sexual battery is a legal term used to describe touching someone without their consent. So, brushing your hand over someone's rear or touching their neck or waist without consent all count as instances of sexual battery. The sex crime can occur whether the victim is clothed or not and the victim doesn't have to be coerced physically, the perpetrator can also use intimidation and threats to conduct criminal sexual contact.
In an interview with Health, Elizabeth L. Jeglic, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, sexual violence prevention researcher, and professor of psychology at John Jay College in New York City, explains it further, "Sexual battery is a sexual offense. The definition varies by state but generally, it refers to non-consensual or coerced sexual contact that does not result in penetration—that can involve fondling of the breasts, touching of the buttocks or genital area, forced kissing, or forcing someone to touch the perpetrator sexually against their will."
In most legal frameworks, sexual battery and sexual assault are defined differently than rape. The main difference between a sexual battery case and rape that there is sexual penetration whether it be oral, vaginal, or anal in rape but in a sexual battery offense there is no penetration component but just any form of non-consensual touching.
Similarly, sexual assault is any type of sexual touching or behavior that occurs without the person's consent (the victim). It includes forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.
What to do if you've experienced sexual battery?
If you've experienced sexual assault or sexual battery, know that you don't need to deal with it alone. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to seek help.
In case you are in immediate danger by the sex offender, call an emergency helpline. You can either call the Indian Women's Helpline (1091), Women's Helpline for Domestic Abuse (181), or any of the helplines mentioned in the National Commission for Women.
Talk to someone, be it your friend, family member, therapist, or a youth worker. You can find helplines to connect to a counselor here about the offense. Talking to someone can help you understand what steps can be taken next. It will also help you process the experience. Do remember that there is no right or wrong way to process it.
If you've been sexually assaulted, medical support is essential even if there was no sexual penetration. In addition, while you may feel low and confused about what to do next, remember to trust yourself and your experience.
If a friend or loved one has experienced sexual battery, listen, and offer support. Do not belittle their experience, even a simple sexual battery offense can negatively affect people. Don't force them to talk about the details of the sexual act that was imposed on them, let them come to you. Remind them that the offender is at fault and not them. If possible, offer to accompany them to the hospital or to counseling for emotional support.