Asia Argento is a director and an actor, but to many she is better known for two things: being the girlfriend of the late and beloved Anthony Bourdain, and one of the first women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of rape. As recent headlines have revealed, she is also an accused rapist.
Reports have surfaced that in 2017, Argento agreed to pay actor Jimmy Bennett $380,000 after he sent her a notice, complete with allegedly incriminating photographs, of his intent to sue her for an alleged sexual assault in 2013. The intent to sue notice claimed that then-37 year-old Argento met up with then-17 year-old Bennett in Argento’s hotel room in California, where she gave him alcohol, pushed him onto the bed, climbed on top of him and forced sex on him. Argento denies the allegations, but TMZ claims to have seen the photograph, as well as text messages that seem to suggest sex took place, albeit with Bennett the claimed aggressor.
“Luckiest Boy in the World Award.”
“What I wouldn’t have given for that to happen to me!”
“Mental anguish? I’m not buying it!”
“Shit, he hit the lottery!”
So sayeth the anonymous, knuckle-dragging Twitter contingent.
Because surely, no young man would ever resent the loss of his bodily autonomy at the hands of someone old enough to have given birth to him, so long as she is sufficiently attractive.
Others will make the argument for the impossibility of female-on-male rape, due to the required male bodily mechanics (having no understanding of how a body may betray itself during such an attack).
Still others will take the time-honored position of pointing to the threatened lawsuit and the accepted payoff as a blow to Bennett’s credibility, proof he was not harmed and is an opportunist looking for a payday (despite the alleged existence of photographs that prove his story.)
All of these people are rape apologists.
Asia Argento met this boy when he was seven years old, when she played his mother in a movie. She kept in touch with him over the years; she called him her “son” and he called her his mother. She was a mentor, a caring adult he trusted — no doubt a rarity in the world of a child actor (of note: Bennett also had to sue his actual parents for mismanaging his money).
And then, he says, she gave him alcohol, took his clothes off, and penetrated herself on him. If so, then she raped him. These actions would have been a crime, and I do not refer to a mere technical violation of California’s law of age of consent, which is 18.
Bennett says he felt “confused, mortified, and disgusted.” Much as one might expect to feel if one had been raped by one’s mother-figure. I don’t know why, four years later, he decided to threaten his alleged rapist with a lawsuit, or how $380,000 was sufficient to assuage his anguish. Understanding his motivations and actions is not required in order to accept his account at face value.
Maybe it was shame. Maybe it was knowing that other grown adults would roll their eyes and insist he loved every minute of it. Or maybe, as his lawyer says, he had suppressed his feelings about it until Argento announced herself a victim, and became the face of the #metoo movement.
Some have taken a leap of logic that defies my understanding, deciding that if Bennett is to be believed, then Argento must be lying about Harvey Weinstein. Thieves can be stolen from, killers can be murdered, can rapists not be raped? There is no logic there. If so, then why do so many root for prison rape to befall those convicted of sexual assault?
Argento says that Weinstein raped her at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997. There is as much reason to believe her as there is to believe Jimmy Bennett. That she would go on to victimize someone else is hardly a novel concept; it is a commonly known fact that many sexual abusers were victims themselves. This might make her a hypocrite in addition to a rapist, but does not erase the possibility that she was also a victim.
It is abhorrent though, that having suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a more powerful person, Argento would go on to perpetrate the same violation upon a young person who looked up to her, in the way she likely looked up to the influential Weinstein before he raped her. It offers no mitigation, and in fact exacerbates the allegations. She would have known better, known the damage left behind when bodily autonomy is stolen by trusted hands. If Bennett’s allegations are true, Argento deserves no less punishment than Weinstein does for each of his alleged victims.
However, it does not invalidate the #metoo movement. Argento is not Weinstein’s only accuser. She isn’t even one of the three victims named in the criminal charges pending against him for sexual assault in New York. And she is not the impetus for the many other victims of many other perpetrators who have come forward since the movement gained momentum. It is all too easy for those who have mocked and dismissed the #metoo movement to now hear the sordid allegations against Argento and smirk self-righteously, validated in their derision.
But the #metoo campaign predates Argento’s accusations against Weinstein. Activist Tarana Burke started “metoo” a decade ago, though publicity did not take hold until more famous faces adopted the hashtag. It has come to symbolize, for better or worse, every form of sexual wrongdoing, from “catcalls” and harassment to actual physical sexual violence. It has its place in exposing those who would otherwise continue to hide in the darkness and capture their prey, no matter how distorted the movement has become in some ways. In a viper pit like Hollywood, it is not surprising that one individual may have gone from prey to predator.
It is possible to both despise her for what she is accused of, and feel sympathy if she was a victim herself. We can look to Ms. Burke in an attempt to reconcile the conflicting possible truths about Asia Argento: