Last night, the New York Times reported that Asia Argento, one of the first women who came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of rape, has herself been accused of sexual assault. The New York Times obtained documents showing that Argento arranged to pay $380,000 to Jimmy Bennett, a 22-year-old actor and musician who says Argento, now 42, sexually assaulted him in 2013, when he was 17 and she was 37. The legal age of consent in California, where the alleged assault took place, is 18. As part of the agreement, Argento paid Bennett for the copyright to a photo of the pair of them in bed together; the New York Times also received a copy of the photo, and verified its and the documents’ authenticity with “three people familiar with the case.”
Bennett was seven years old when he played Argento’s son in the movie The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, which Argento also directed and co-wrote. The pair kept up what both described as a mother/son relationship; “Waiting for my long lost son my love @jimmymbennett in trepidation #marinadelrey smoking cigarettes like there was no next week,” Argento captioned an Instagram selfie taken the morning before the alleged assault. In the documents, Bennett says that when he went to visit Argento, she gave him alcohol and then sexually assaulted him (the New York Times’ description is graphic and detailed), and also asked him to take photos. Bennett says that later in the day, as his parents drove him home, he began to feel “extremely confused, mortified, and disgusted.” In the documents, he described the assault as a traumatic sexual battery that damaged his mental health, his work, and his income.
Bennett decided to sue Argento after seeing her become a figurehead for the #MeToo movement—she has been outspoken about the epidemic of sexual assault in the film industry, along with many others, including her friend Rose McGowan and late boyfriend Anthony Bourdain. Bennett’s “feelings about that day were brought to the forefront recently when Ms. Argento took the spotlight as one of the many victims of Harvey Weinstein,” Bennett’s lawyer Gordon K. Sattro wrote in the notice of intent to sue. Argento’s lawyer was Carrie Goldberg, who is known for her work defending victims of revenge porn; notably, the agreement does not include a nondisclosure agreement, meaning either Argento or Bennett is free to speak about it (though neither agreed to speak to the New York Times), but Bennett cannot sue Argento or post the photo that Argento bought the copyright to. “Ultimately, you decided against the non-disclosure language because you felt it was inconsistent with the public messages you’ve conveyed about the societal perils of non-disclosure agreements,” Goldberg wrote in a note to Argento obtained by the New York Times.
So what does this mean for the #MeToo movement? The accusations against Argento do not negate her own accusations against Weinstein; the same person can be both a victim and a perpetrator of sexual assault. Women can and do enact sexual violence—studies tend to vary on the exact percentages, but agree that women are more likely than men to be victims of sexual assault and are less likely than men to be perpetrators of sexual assault. It’s important to remember, though, that “less likely” does not mean “none.”
Just because women are less likely to rape does not mean that none do, or that men who have been sexually assaulted by women should not be believed or supported. In fact, the same structural misogyny that creates a society where women are more likely to be raped also means that male sexual assault survivors are often not taken seriously; “Asia Argento” is currently trending on Twitter, and it you click, it won’t take long before you see suggestions that Bennett was “asking for it” or “wanted it.” Which is not at all okay.
Keep in mind, too, that the #MeToo movement itself was founded by activist Tarana Burke in 2006, long before Argento’s involvement, and Argento is one of 87 women who have come forward to accuse Weinstein of sexual assault. Argento’s voice has been a strong one in the movement, but she is not the first or only person to come forward, and her actions should not undermine the movement. Tarana Burke tweeted this morning, “I’ve said repeatedly that the #metooMVMT is for all of us, including these brave young men who are now coming forward. It will continue to be jarring when we hear the names of some of our faves connected to sexual violence unless we shift from talking about individuals and begin to talk about power. Sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn’t change if the perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist or professor of any gender […] This movement is making space for possibility. But, it can only happen after we crack open the whole can of worms and get really comfortable with the uncomfortable reality that there is no one way to be a perpetrator and there is no model survivor. We are imperfectly human and we all have to be accountable for our individual behavior.’”
At this moment, it’s important for all of us to prioritize listening to and supporting survivors as they come forward. As Lisa Ryan writes on the Cut: “…this is an opportunity for the movement to show its true priorities: amplifying the voices of survivors, no matter how discomfiting their claims might be, and working to create a world in which no person is too powerful or deemed too unimpeachable for accountability.”
Published August 20, 2018
Asia Argento at Cannes 2013; photo by George Biard via Wikimedia Commons
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