For many of us women, we will never forget October 2017. It was the month that dozens of women in Hollywood broke their silence and came out with sexual assault allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein. It’s what lead black activist, Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement to go viral and finally become acknowledged in mainstream media. However, it appears that among Weinstein’s many accusers is a woman who has actually tried to silence her own sexual assault accuser. Italian actress Asia Argento, one of the leading figures in the #MeToo movement had apparently arranged to pay $380,000 to Jimmy Bennet, a young male musician and actor, who has accused her of sexual assault. Ironically enough, I’m not surprised.
I’ll never forget the day I heard Asia Argento’s speech against Weinstein at the Cannes Film Festival this past May. Her searing and powerful speech left me in chills. This woman bravely took the stage and said: “In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein here at Cannes. I was 21 years old. This festival was his hunting ground.” The intensity in her voice made it very clear that this was a trauma and a pain Argento had been carrying with her for years. We deeply empathized. We felt her pain and for many women who have been sexually assaulted themselves, they strongly related. Argento was a victim, a sexual assault survivor, an activist looking to free and empower women. The last thing that crossed anyone’s mind was that Argento was a perpetrator herself.
But according to reports, she privately arranged to pay her own accuser, Jimmy Bennet $380,000 to keep him silent. Bennet claims that Argento assaulted him in a California hotel room years ago. He had just turned 18 and she was 37. Apparently there are documents proving the payment arrangement.
The documents were privately sent to the New York Times along with a selfie of Argento and Bennet lying in bed. It was dated May 9, 2013. The Times reports that Bennet who is now 22, was required to give the selfie and its copyright to Argento as part of the payment arrangement.
Despite being paid off, Bennet decided to out Argento because seeing the way she presented herself as a victim to the public had really started to get to him. Not only had Argento become a leading figure in the #MeToo movement but her boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, who killed himself this June, had become one of his biggest champions in her battle against assault and harassment. The Times reports she was even speaking at conferences and at Harvard.
“His feelings about that day [the day Argento assaulted him] were brought to the forefront recently when Ms. Argento took the spotlight as one of the many victims of Harvey Weinstein,” Bennet’s lawyer, Mr. Sattro wrote.
Actress and #MeToo movement activist, Rose McGowan made a statement today on Twitter, on how heartbroken she was when she learned Argento had paid off her accuser. “I got to know Asia Argento ten months ago,” she tweeted. “Our commonality is the shared pain of being assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. My heart is broken. I will continue my work on behalf of victims everywhere.”
I got to know Asia Argento ten months ago. Our commonality is the shared pain of being assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. My heart is broken. I will continue my work on behalf of victims everywhere.
— rose mcgowan (@rosemcgowan) August 20, 2018
The allegations made against Argento immediately reminded me of the allegations made against Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz this May. The claims came from numerous female writers including Zinzi Clemmons and Carmen Machado among many others. And while one could argue that none of the claims included assault, it doesn’t excuse the harassment, the misogyny, the machismo, and the unacceptable misconduct that Diaz had displayed with these women over the years. Diaz has since been cleared by MIT in their sexual assault investigation and he even made a statement this summer, but what’s interesting to note is that a month before the allegations, he came out with a personal essay for the New Yorker on how he was raped by a trusted male family friend when he was only 8-years-old. The essay described in detail the trauma it caused, the years of mental distress it lead to, and the regret he now has for the women he treated poorly as a result of his trauma.
It is not unusual for a victim of sexual assault to go on and become a perpetrator. In fact, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 35% of perpetrators reported being victims of child sexual abuse themselves, as opposed to 11% of non-perpetrators. The study found that “the risk of being a perpetrator was positively correlated with reported sexual abuse victim experiences.” This is of course, not to say that all victims go on to become perpetrators. That is absolutely not the case. But apparently a larger percentage of perpetrators than not, have experienced some sort of sexual trauma themselves, which seems to have been the case for both Diaz and Argento.
It’s moments like these that confirm to me the importance of continuing to have dialogue around sexual assault. It angers me when people treat the #MeToo movement like a trending movement that will be forgotten about in a year or so or when folks talk about it like it’s a movement to maliciously out men and perpetrators. Not only does the movement finally give voice to victims—both men and women—who have been silenced for years—but it also brings up important issues that are not often discussed, like how a victim can also be a perpetrator.
My goal here is not to demonize Argento and make her out to look like a sexual assault monster. It’s to remind people of the complexity of sexual assault and human trauma, and how this fight against sexual violence is far from over. The work still needs to be done, the conversations still need to be had, and there are plenty of folks out there who still need to be heard and still need to heal.