Shia LaBeouf Blames Addiction for His Alleged Abuse of FKA twigs—It’s a Cop-Out

A close-up image of Shia LaBeouf wearing sunglasses at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in 2016.
Shia LaBeouf at the 69th Cannes Film Festival in 2016. (ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

The singer, dancer and actress FKA twigs has filed a lawsuit against her ex-boyfriend, actor Shia LaBeouf, accusing him of “sexual battery, assault and infliction of emotional distress” during their almost year-long relationship, the New York Times reports. The two were together between 2018 and ’19.

The lawsuit alleges a litany of frightening behavior by LaBeouf against FKA twigs, born Tahliah Barnett. It includes mental, physical and sexual abuse; controlling behavior (she was not allowed to look other men in the eye); deception (Barnett says he knowingly gave her an STD) and ongoing intimidation. In the court filing, Barnett said LaBeouf was so frightening and unpredictable, she was scared to even get out of bed in the middle of the night so as not to startle him, worried that he might mistake her as an intruder and shoot her.

Barnett’s version of events is also corroborated in part by other on-record witnesses. One housekeeper states that she saw LaBeouf pick Barnett up, lock her in a room with him and verbally abuse her after Barnett refused to leave the house with him. Karolyn Pho, another ex-girlfriend of LaBeouf’s, details similar experiences, including one occasion on which he head-butted her hard enough to draw blood.

When contacted by The New York Times for comment, LaBeouf appeared to own up to the accusations at first, stating: “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.” Later though, in separate correspondence with the newspaper, he stated that “many of these allegations are not true.”

In his emails to the Times, LaBeouf repeatedly pointed to his addiction issues as being related to his abusive behavior. “I have no excuses for my alcoholism or aggression, only rationalizations,” he wrote. Later, he added that “I am not cured of my PTSD and alcoholism, 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.” He also made a point to say he was currently “a sober member of a 12-step program.”

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It’s true that addiction and abuse often do go hand-in-hand—according to the UCLA Center For Health Policy Research, almost half of all victims of intimate partner violence say their abuser was under the influence when it happened. However, the allegations against LaBeouf in Barnett’s lawsuit go far beyond what one would expect from abuse spurred on by intoxication. In fact, some of the behavior described is regimented and around-the-clock—LaBeouf is even said to have had rules about how many specific times a day Barnett was expected to kiss him.

Beyond the unlikelihood that LaBeouf was intoxicated for that entire period, pointing to an alcohol addiction as a reason for behavior this abhorrent in no way justifies it. One of the more egregious examples in the lawsuit describes an occasion in February 2019. On that day, Barnett says, LaBeouf drove dangerously and threatened to crash the car unless she immediately professed her love for him. Barnett says that after she finally persuaded him to pull over into a gas station, she attempted to leave but was thrown against the car, screamed at and then physically forced back into the vehicle. (Disturbingly, she says, no one at the gas station attempted to intervene.)

FKA twigs and Shia LaBeouf alongside the rest of the cast of 'Honey Boy' at 2019's Sundance Film Festival. The two met while making the movie in 2018.
FKA twigs (second from left) and Shia LaBeouf (second from right) alongside the rest of the cast of 'Honey Boy' at 2019's Sundance Film Festival. The two met while making the movie in 2018. (Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

More telling about LaBeouf's motivations, though, is the manner in which he wooed and then isolated Barnett, as she has described it. The beginning of their relationship was marked by what Barnett calls “over-the-top displays of affection.” Once trust had been built, Barnett accompanied LaBeouf to Los Angeles where, she says, he actively worked on keeping her there, isolating her from friends and family in London, and sowing seeds of distrust between her and the people she worked with.

The New York Times describes this behavior in its own report on Barnett’s lawsuit:

In an abusive relationship, there’s often a 'honeymoon phase,' as some experts call it, that builds intimacy and sets a benchmark for how happy the romance could be. It serves as a powerful lure; though flashes of bliss may remain, they are meted out through increasingly controlling demands and impossible standards of behavior.

That kind of long con can in no way be construed as an accident, or the result of a substance addiction. Rather, it is a common methodology used by abusive people to gain control over their partners. It is exercised over a prolonged period, and often in a premeditated manner.

The fact that LaBeouf has now repeatedly sought to blame his self-described abusive behavior on alcoholism is, in the end, a cop out. Worse, it also serves as an attempt to undercut Barnett as she speaks out to show how even successful, powerful individuals like her can fall prey to toxic relationships. If the methodology of the alleged abuse hadn’t been constructed around long-term, strategized manipulation, it’s doubtful she would have stayed for as many months as she did.

Barnett is quoted in the Times, explaining the effects of enduring such sustained manipulative behavior from an intimate partner. “He brought me so low,” she says, “below myself, that the idea of leaving him and having to work myself back up just seemed impossible.”

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence and need assistance, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or contact one of these Bay Area organizations.