The New York Times reported last night that the Italian actress and #MeToo advocate Asia Argento made payments to the actor and musician Jimmy Bennett after he accused her of sexually assaulting him.
According to the report, Argento met Bennett when she starred as his mother in the 2004 film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. The two reportedly stayed in touch and had a mentor relationship until 2013, when Argento allegedly assaulted Bennett in a California hotel room when he was 17 and she was 37. (California’s age of consent of 18.) The details are harrowing: Argento purportedly asked a family member to leave Bennett alone with her in the hotel, and gave him alcohol before the assault occurred. The Times reports that the fallout from the encounter led to a spiral of emotional problems for Bennett and largely derailed his acting career.
The report of the assault and the ensuing $380,000 settlement, which Argento began paying this past April, have come as a particular shock to observers, who know the actress as a leading voice in the #MeToo movement and one of the first women, of 87 at this point, to have accused Harvey Weinstein of assault. Since then, she has remained a leading figure in the movement. Her late boyfriend, the chef, writer, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, was a prominent ally of #MeToo alongside her.
Some detractors have used the news as an opportunity to cast a skeptical eye on the #MeToo movement as a whole:
Meanwhile, allies of the #MeToo movement have pointed out that the alleged assault, while shocking, should not be used to derail the legitimacy of the #MeToo movement.
As #MeToo creator Tarana Burke pointed out on Twitter, it feels terrible to see an advocate for justice accused of the exact crime they are protesting—but it’s also important to note that it’s possible for Argento to be both a survivor and perpetrator of sexual assault.
Argento should face serious consequences if she did what she is accused of. But that does not render her accusations against Weinstein void. Indeed, these latest allegations show how widespread sexual violence is, how diverse its victims are, and how critically we as a society need to address it.