“It’s a miracle I came out alive,” said musician FKA twigs in a recently published Elle article about the alleged abuse she suffered at the hands of ex-boyfriend Shia LaBeouf. This isn’t the first time twigs has publicly recounted her experience—she sued LaBeouf for sexual battery, assault, and infliction of emotional distress in December—but she provided even more painful detail in the article, attributing her survival to “pure luck.”
On Thursday, twigs sat down for an interview with CBS This Morning host Gayle King to further discuss her experience as a survivor of domestic violence. Most of the interview was fairly standard until King made the choice to probe twigs on a deliberately touchy topic: “Nobody who’s been in this position likes this question, and I often wonder if it’s even appropriate to ask…why didn’t you leave?” The response that twigs gave was polite yet clear and firm: “I’m not going to answer that question anymore because the question should really be to the abuser, ‘Why are you holding someone hostage?’”
It’s clear from the phrasing of King’s question that she knew she was heading into murky waters, but the mere fact that she presented it to twigs—even with a qualifier—brings up an important question for us all: Why do we still think it’s appropriate to interrogate survivors of domestic abuse about why they stayed, instead of asking what structural support, material resources, or other forms of help they needed and lacked in order to embolden their own sense of agency?
One in four women and one in seven men will be victims of domestic abuse in their lifetime, according to CDC data, yet as a society, we still don’t know how to talk to survivors about it. “If there had been nothing good, I wouldn’t have stayed,” anti-trafficking advocate Rachel Lloyd wrote of a prior abusive relationship in her 2011 autobiography Girls Like Us, and sadly that narrative holds true for many survivors; after all, many abusers are experts at love-bombing their victims when necessary, thus making it easier for those victims to stay on the assumption that this time will be different.