Argento shows us that people are capable of being abusive and abused, and her accuser, Jimmy Bennett, also deserves justice.
TW: This essay contains mention and descriptions of statutory r/pe
In a report published on Sunday, the New York Times reveals that actress Asia Argento made payments totalling $380,000 to actor Jimmy Bennett after allegedly sexually assaulting him in 2013 when he was just 17-years-old and the actress was 37. The age of consent in California is 18.
Argento was one of the first people who voiced her sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein and has been a vocal part of #MeToo since last year. Argento played Bennett’s mother in her 2004 film, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. Bennett, who is now 22-years-old, notified Argento of his intent to sue the actress after describing how the assault affected his mental health and ability to work. According to the reports collected by the New York Times, seeing Argento present herself as the victim of Weinstein’s crimes was “too much to bear”.
Bennett and Argento met when he was just 7-years-old for the film they were in together and the two formed a strong “mother-son” relationship during production and kept in touch throughout the years with Argento referring to Bennett as her “son” in Instagram posts leading up to the day she allegedly assaulted him.
According to the documents acquired by The New York Times, the assault occurred when Bennett arrived at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey with a family member and, by Bennett’s account, Argento asked if they could be alone. She then, “gave him alcohol to drink and showed him a series of notes she had written to him on hotel stationery. Then she kissed him, pushed him back on the bed, removed his pants and performed oral sex. She climbed on top of him and the two had intercourse, the document says. She then asked him to take a number of photos.”
To add on to the already despicable events which were documented by Bennett and his lawyers, it is difficult to ignore the plot of the film that Argento and Bennett worked on together when he was a child. Based on a book by JT LeRoy, the film depicts the relationship between a sex worker (played by Argento) struggling with addiction and raising her son (Bennett), whom she dresses as a girl to lure men, and who is eventually sexually assaulted himself. To be a part of a film which portrays the rape of a child, and then to allegedly assault the person portraying that child years later before they can even consent, adds layers to the grotesque abuse.
Argento, who has a clear understanding of what sexual violence looks like, what it feels like and the effects that it has on the victims of abuse, chose to use her power to do the same thing Weinstein did to her. Argento is an adult who formed and maintained a relationship with a child whom she later (allegedly) violated when he was a teenager.
While many anti-feminists will be quick to discredit Argento’s allegations against Weinstein in light of this latest report, it is important that we remember that multiple things can be true at the same time: Argento can simultaneously be a victim of sexual assault, while also being the perpetrator of it. Bennett’s allegations against Argento do not erase her allegations against Weinstein — they exist in the same world and at the same time, and given how people treat sexual assault against boys and men as almost non-existent or impossible, it is our responsibility to hold all abusers up to the same standards of accountability while having thoughtful discussions about patriarchy, consent and the abuse of power.
It is also worth mentioning that during the Cannes film festival in May, Argento also tried to throw Ava DuVernay under the bus to bolster her white feminist victimhood following a speech she gave addressing abusers in the film industry. She claimed on Twitter that Spike Lee was the only person present to offer her comfort, and responded to someone on Twitter specifically that DuVernay did not, to which Ava responded with photo evidence to dispute Argento’s claim.
My response was to put my arm around you and say “well-done.” You looked me in my eyes and said “thank you.” It was a warm exchange. I totally understand if you don’t remember the details as it was a big moment and there was a lot of emotion. For the record again, well done. xo pic.twitter.com/gz8moPAxrP
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) May 21, 2018
It is clearly time that we stop thinking of abuse as a binary of good people versus evil monsters. Alleged abusers like Argento and people like Weinstein, R. Kelly, Kevin Spacey and millions of others are human. They are our parents, mentors, friends, family members, teachers, co-workers, they are people who are capable of perpetuating systems of abuse while also sometimes being the recipients of pain themselves. The abuse suffered by Argento does not excuse what she allegedly did to Bennett, she made a choice and she should be held accountable for what she did without masquerading as a champion for victims of sexual assault.
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