At the end of last year, musician FKA Twigs, born Tahliah Debrett Barnett, brought allegations of romantic terrorism against her former partner, actor Shia LaBeouf. Barnett’s lawsuit, which was filed last month in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleges that LaBeouf perpetrated sexual battery, battery, assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and gross negligence. Also in her lawsuit, Barnett issued a warning: “Shia LaBeouf hurts women. He uses them. He abuses them, both physically and mentally. He is dangerous.” The musician explained that she brought the lawsuit not for personal gain but “to help ensure that no more women undergo the abuse that Shia LaBeouf has inflicted on his previous romantic partners.” LaBoeuf has not yet filed a response, though he told the New York Times “many of these allegations are not true.” This week, the singer participated in an extended interview with Louis Theroux for his BBC podcast, Grounded, sharing more about her experience with partner violence. Of the relationship, she said, “People often ask the survivor, ‘Why didn’t you leave?’ instead of asking the abuser, ‘Why are you holding someone hostage through abusive behavior?’”
Like Barnett and millions of other women, I am intimate with romantic terrorism. After a whirlwind courtship, a man I dated used romantic terrorism to trap me. I remained with this batterer for a long time, and, like Barnett, one of the ugliest questions I’m asked is, “Why didn’t you leave?” The question is audacious considering that I did leave. That’s why I’m able to freely discuss the experience. The question also presupposes that my batterer and I are gendered equals. It erases our gendered power asymmetry, and it obscures the disproportionate social pressure placed on women to make romantic relationships, including toxic ones, “work.” The question also elides the terroristic work of batterers who end up killing their victims. The most dangerous time for battered victims is separation, or what I call escape. Post-separation violence, including stalking, kidnapping, and femicide, is likeliest to occur in the months immediately following the escape.