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Asia Argento paid off actor she reportedly sexually assaulted (updated)

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Asia Argento, an Italian actress and director, was one of the first women to come forward to say Harvey Weinstein sexually assaulted her in October, which subsequently made her a vocal leader of the #Me Too movement against systemic sexual harassment and assault.

A month after coming forward last year, Argento received a notice of intent to sue from an actor she had previously worked with, detailing Argento’s sexual assault of the actor in 2013, when she was 37 and he was 17. The assault, described as a “sexual battery” had affected the actor’s subsequent income and mental health.

According to the New York Times, Argento settled to pay Jimmy Bennett, an actor and rock musician, $380,000 after receiving the notice in November. According to documents sent to the publication from an encrypted email by an unidentified source, the assault took place on May 9, 2013, when Bennett, who is now 22, met Argento for a reunion in a hotel room in Marina del Rey, California. The two had previously worked together on a film she directed, co-wrote, and starred in, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, in 2004. Bennett, who was 7 years old, played Argento’s son in the film.

The meeting was apparently confirmed by an Instagram post and comments featuring Argento and Bennett. Those photos are still posted to Argento’s account.

After being driven by a family member, the documents sent to the Times state that Argento asked the family member to leave. She then gave Bennett alcohol and read notes she had written him. She then kissed him, performed oral sex on him, and had intercourse with him. She then had Bennett take photos of them, some of them in bed with their torsos exposed. Argento used one of the photos on Instagram, writing, “Happiest day of my life reunion with @jimmymbennett xox.”

Happiest day of my life reunion with @jimmymbennett xox

A post shared by asiaargento (@asiaargento) on

After driving home to his parents’ house after having lunch, the document says Bennett began to feel “extremely confused, mortified, and disgusted.” Bennett did not want to be interviewed for the Times piece, but his lawyer gave a statement. Argento did not respond to requests for a response.

“In the coming days, Jimmy will continue doing what he has been doing over the past months and years, focusing on his music,” the lawyer, Gordon K. Sattro, wrote to the Times.

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Across Twitter, supporters and critics of the #MeToo movement, which has targeted the status quo of personal and institutional silence protecting sexual harassers and abusers from consequences and legal prosecution, are parsing the news of the assault characterized in the documents.

While Argento was pivotal in forming an international movement for listening to the accounts of sexual assault survivors, she herself is said to have assaulted a young, teenage former co-star, leaving some to once again question her own credibility regarding her assault.

Others, however, say they still take Argento’s assault seriously, while also believing the assault described by Bennett’s lawyer, and taking the actor’s trauma seriously as well.

Tarana Burke, the originator of the phrase “Me, too” to embolden and support survivors, tweeted that the movement is also for young men, and that hearing the names of “some of our faves connected to sexual violence” will continue to be uncomfortable until we “shift from talking about individuals and begin to talk about power.”

“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… and there is no model survivor,” Burke wrote. “We are imperfectly human and we all have to be accountable for our individual behavior.”

In a letter that Argento’s lawyer Carrie Goldberg wrote to her finalizing the settlement, Goldberg wrote the payments would be “helping Mr. Bennett,” and wrote “we hope nothing like this ever happens to you [Argento] again.”

Goldberg didn’t stop there: “You are a powerful and inspiring creator and it is a miserable condition of life that you live among shitty individuals who’ve preyed on both your strengths and your weaknesses.”

Update Aug. 21, 11:17am CT: On Tuesday, Argento denied having a sexual relationship with Bennett, writing that she made the made the payment via her then-boyfriend Anthony Bourdain so Bennett would stop harassing the couple. In a statement sent to journalist Yashar Ali, Argento wrote she is “deeply shocked and hurt” by the report ran by the Times and other publications.

Argento’s statement reads as follows:

I strongly deny and oppose the contents of the New York Times article dated 20 August 2018, as circulated also in national and international news.

I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false. I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.

I was linked to [Bennett] during several years by friendship only, which ended when, subsequent to my exposure in the Weinstein case, Bennett—who was then undergoing severe economic problems and who had previously undertaken legal actions against his own family requesting millions in damages—unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me. Bennett knew my boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, was a man of great perceived wealth and had his own reputation as a beloved figure to protect.

[Anthony] insisted the matter be handled privately and this was also what Bennett wanted. Anthony was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such a person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us. We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett’s demand for help and give it to him. Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life.

This is, therefore, the umpteenth development of a sequence of events that brings me great sadness and that constitutes a long-standing persecution. I have therefore no other choice but to oppose such false allegations and will assume in the short term all necessary initiatives for my protection before all competent venues.”

Update 10:09am CT, Aug. 23: On Wednesday, Bennett released his first statement regarding the assault, saying that he didn’t initially speak out because he was “ashamed and afraid” to add his account against Argento to the public narrative of the Me Too movement.

In the statement, published in full by the Hollywood Reporter, Bennett went on to write that his trauma resurfaced after seeing Argento come out against Weinstein, and that by reaching out to Argento privately, he was dealing with his trauma in a palatable way because he was “not ready to deal with the ramifications of my story becoming public.”

Earlier that day, TMZ published screenshots of texts sent by Argento to an unidentified person, along with one of the photos taken after the assault. The photo shows Argento and Bennett laying down, visible from the shoulders up. The texter believed to be Argento wrote, “I had sex with him it felt weird. I didn’t know he was a minor until the shakedown letter.”

Argento also sent a photo of a note that Bennett wrote her, seemingly on the stationery of the hotel she was staying at, and said that Bennett told her she was a sexual fantasy of his, and continually send her explicit photos after the encounter.

“If I lose my job I will move to Africa or the Amazon forest. I want to be among the 90 percent of the world that doesn’t give a fuck about this shit,” the texter identified as Argento wrote.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department is reportedly reaching out to Bennett.

Read Bennett’s full statement below:

Many brave women and men have spoken out about their own experiences during the #metoo movement, and I appreciate the bravery that it took for each and every one of them to take such a stand. I did not initially speak out about my story because I chose to handle it in private with the person who wronged me. My trauma resurfaced as she came out as a victim herself. I have not made a public statement in the past days and hours because I was ashamed and afraid to be part of the public narrative. 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. At the time I believed there was still a stigma to being in the situation as a male in our society. I didn’t think that people would understand the event that took place from the eyes of a teenage boy. I have had to overcome many adversities in my life, and this is another that I will deal with, in time. I would like to move past this event in my life, and today I choose to move forward, no longer in silence.

H/T the New York Times

Samantha Grasso

Samantha Grasso

Samantha Grasso is an IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.