Update: On August 22, actor Jimmy Bennett—who received payment from Asia Argento after accusing her of sexual assault—released a statement to The Hollywood Reporter saying he was “ashamed and afraid” to speak out about his alleged assault. “I was underage when the event took place, and I tried to seek justice in a way that made sense to me at the time because I was not ready to deal with the ramifications of my story becoming public,” Bennett said of his silence. “I would like to move past this event in my life, and today I choose to move forward, no longer in silence.” His statement comes a day after TMZ released texts allegedly sent by Argento as well as a selfie of the actress with Bennett. Argento has denied the allegations. “I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false,” she said in a statement released August 21. “I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.”
On August 19, the New York Times revealed that Italian actress and #MeToo activist Asia Argento was herself accused of sexual assault and had recently paid an accuser $380,000 in a settlement.
The report alleges that in May 2013, Argento, then 37, sexually assaulted former child actor Jimmy Bennett, then 17, in a hotel room in California—a state in which the legal age of consent is 18. In documents obtained by the publication, Bennett’s lawyer described the now 22-year-old’s impression of their friendship as “a mother-son relationship [that] had blossomed from their experience on set together.” According to the NYT, Bennett requested $3.7 million in damages in November 2017, a month after Argento came forward with her own claims of sexual assault against producer Harvey Weinstein, and was prompted to do so by Argento’s rising prominence as a victim of sexual assault.
In a statement released on August 20, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said it is investigating the allegations. While the department has not “located any police report alleging criminal activity” in connection to the assault, it is reaching out to Bennett. At the time of publication, Argento has not been charged with any crime.
Argento was one of the first actresses to speak out against Weinstein, alleging in an October 2017 New Yorker piece that she was raped by the producer. This past May she gave a powerful speech at the Cannes Film Festival, calling it Weinstein’s “hunting ground.” In the time since she first spoke out, Argento has become a vocal proponent for the #MeToo movement.
The accusations against Argento are disheartening and disappointing, to say the least. Also disheartening: the immediate backlash on social media, not just to Argento—but to the #MeToo movement as a whole. Since the news broke, Twitter has been alight with both supporters and non-supporters, with many saying that the accusations undermine #MeToo, and others questioning the validity of Argento’s own accusations against Weinstein.
“I never believed #asiaargento anyway,” wrote one Twitter user, “as an Italian, I know her too well. And now THIS?! This #MeToo movement needs to be out in perspective (or better, each woman’s case should be put in perspective.”
I never believed #asiaargento anyway: as an Italian, I know her too well. And now THIS?! This #MeToo movement needs to be put in perspective (or better, each woman's case should be put in perspective).
— Guendalina❀グェンダ (@anglophilegwen) August 20, 2018
“People like Asia Argento are the reason why we think the #MeToo movement is nothing more than a war on men…” tweeted someone else.
People like Asia Argento are the reason why we think the #MeToo movement is nothing more than a war on men…
— CoolChris_007 (@Hashtagger_007) August 20, 2018
Because of this, many supporters of the movement have also spoken out, fearful that the actress’s story will be used to empower skeptics and perpetuate rape myths—including the (completely inaccurate and seriously dangerous) notion that women falsely report sexual assault and are not to be trusted.
“People who say the revelations about #AsiaArgento will not hurt #MeToo are wrong,” tweeted NYT columnist Charles M. Blow. “It shouldn’t, but it will. Every movement has enemies, and they look for every opening. Movements have to weather the storms and grow through them. #MeToo can- must!- do that too.”
People who say the revelations about #AsiaArgento will not hurt #MeToo are wrong. It shouldn’t, but it will. Every movement has enemies, and they look for every opening. Movements have to weather the storms and grow through them. #MeToo can – must! – do that too.
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) August 20, 2018
Argento can be both a victim and a perpetrator
Blow is 100% correct. These new revelations against Argento—as upsetting as they are—shouldn’t discount the movement, because they stand independent of it. Instead, they highlight the complexity of sexual violence: just because she did something bad, doesn’t mean that something bad wasn’t done to her. And similarly, Argento’s own victimization doesn’t allow or excuse her actions as a perpetrator.
“Before people go off on this story,” one user tweeted, “both of these things can be true: Asia Argento sexually assaulted a minor; she was assaulted by Weinstein. Neither of these things negate the other and neither of these behaviours are acceptable. Both should face consequences.”
Before people go off on this story, both of these things can be true:
-Asia Argento sexually assaulted a minor
-She was assaulted by Weinstein
Neither of these things negate the other and neither of these behaviors are acceptable. Both should face consequences. https://t.co/wv0PqBYWcR
— Sarah Flourance (@BookishFeminist) August 20, 2018
And as activist Tarana Burke—the creator of the #MeToo movement—noted in a six-tweet thread, the accusations against Argento highlight the “uncomfortable reality” that “there is no one way to be a perpetrator”—and similarly, that “there is no model survivor.”
A shift can happen. 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.
— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) August 20, 2018
Argento’s alleged actions don’t mean Weinstein—and other perpetrators—get a pass
More than 90 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct ranging from aggressive behaviour to rape—and the accusation against Argento doesn’t alter this fact. Nor does it invalidate the widely reported and corroborated actions of other perpetrators who have been called out post #MeToo, by women and men other than Argento. “Whatever happens in the Asia Argento case doesn’t take away from the fact Harvey Weinstein and many powerful men have preyed upon women, abused them, exploited them and have had their sins covered and buried,” Wajahat Ali tweeted, “but now society is waking up and saying no more.”
Whatever happens in the Asia Argento case doesnt take away from the fact Harvey Weinstein and many powerful men have preyed upon women, abused them, exploited them and have had their sins covered and buried, but now society is waking up and saying no more.
— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) August 20, 2018
Journalist Emily H. Johnson notes that these revelations show the pervasiveness of sexual violence, and the longstanding effects violence can have, writing: “This revelation about Asia Argento doesn’t undermine the #MeToo movement. It shows that rape causes damage that reverberates through the world in incalculable ways. That doesn’t mean what she did isn’t utterly fucked up, or that she shouldn’t be held accountable.”
This revelation about Asia Argento doesn't undermine the #MeToo movement. It shows that rape causes damage that reverberates through the world in incalculable ways. That doesn't mean what she did isn't utterly fucked up, or that she shouldn't be held accountable.
— Emily H. Johnson (@EmilyJReports) August 20, 2018
Ultimately, we need a less gendered understanding of sexual violence
If anything, Bennett’s accusation further validates the necessity of the#MeToo movement, and proves that we have more work to do when it comes to understanding the genderless system behind assault: power and privilege. In the same thread, Burke reiterated the ethos of the movement, tweeting: “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.”
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 [+]
— Tarana (@TaranaBurke) August 20, 2018
And these problematic “faves” Burke continued, can be “your favourite actress, activist or professor of any gender.”
While male victims of sexual violence became largely visible with accusations against actor Kevin Spacey, Argento is one of the first women to be publicly accused of sexual violence in association with the #MeToo movement, and the accusation is forcing us to further shift gendered narratives surrounding sexual assault.
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