Asia Argento Or What Happens When Abuse Victims Become Abusers Themselves?

The #MeToo movement has definitely carried on the conversation about sexual abuse and misconduct, but it would seem it only focuses on one side or possibility out there.

Last weekend The New York Times published an article where Asia Argento, one of the main voices of the #MeToo movement was exposed as a sexual abuser herself. When Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was exposed by the same paper, Argento was one of the many women in the industry who accused him of sexual assault. Now, over the past year, she has continued speaking out about the matter, so the news of her being accused of the same crime shows the many levels of this severe problem. According to the article, Jimmy Bennett, a former child actor who played her son in the film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things (2004), sent a notice to Argento, asking for compensation for the psychological and physical distress he went through after being sexually assaulted by the Italian actress and director.

Apparently, after they shot the film, Bennett and Argento developed a very close relationship that kept growing over the years. Then, according to Bennett’s lawyer, when the young actor saw Argento claiming to be a victim of sexual assault, all the memories and trauma came back to him. The incident happened a few years ago when Bennett had just turned 17. They met at a hotel (she even Instagrammed that she was waiting for her “son,” Bennett), and asked his companion to leave them alone. That was when the assault occurred, and according to the legal retelling of the events, she even asked him to take some pictures of them on the bed. She sent him home, and that was when he realized what had happened. He says he began to feel “extremely confused, mortified, and disgusted.”

When Bennett sent the legal notice, Argento made a quiet arrangement, compensating him with $380,000 deferred in payments. Her lawyer, Carrie Goldberg, established the terms of the deal so that it would silence Bennett and prevent him from taking the story to the media. Among the documents that were anonymously sent to The New York Times, there's the arrangement, a selfie of them in bed, with the copyright being granted to Argento. The day after the news broke out, Argento published a letter in which she claims she never had sex with him and that she and her partner, the late Antony Bourdain, had decided to give him what he wanted, "upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life.”

Yesterday, her version of the story was put into question after the gossip site TMZ published the aforementioned photograph of them in bed and a series of texts where she openly admits to having had sex with him. The particular text that incrimminates her seems to have been sent after she received the legal notice from Bennett. Here it says she "had sex with him, it felt weird. I didn’t know he was a minor until the shakedown letter.” These are the facts, but let’s delve into the moral aspects of the consequences of something like this. The first question is does this affect her status as a sexual assault victim and spokesperson of the movement?

Let me show you another example. Not so long ago, I read the news of a prominent feminist professor at New York University, Avital Ronell, who had just been found responsible for sexually harassing one of her former students, Nimrod Reitman. According to him, she harassed him for years. Then, it led to stalking, and later on, sexual abuse. The university suspended her for a full academic year, but the case naturally produced some intense discussions. Several scholars from around the world sent a signed letter to the university in defense of Ronell (feminist icon Judith Butler was the first one to sign the document). Ronell’s defense has denied the accusations, claiming that there was indeed a close, friendly relationship, but that Reitman twisted the details in order to get attention. This sounds very similar to the things most people accused of harassment have said. However, according to the article from The New York Times, Reitman has emails where Professor Ronell shows more than just a friendly closeness.

So, the thing here is this. Since #MeToo started, many people have condemned and protested against the many men accused of abuse and harassment in order to get justice for the victims (not to mention to see their careers crumble). This is great. However, most people still don't know how to react when things happen the other way around. I mean, most people embrace the discourse of misogyny and gender inequality as explanations for these behaviors, when it’s obvious that this is a matter of power, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or victim. For example, when all the celebrities began to be exposed, there were allegations of a young man claiming Mariah Carey had had some uncomfortable innuendos towards him. He was destroyed on social media with people commenting that he wasn’t manly enough and that anyone in his place would’ve considered themselves lucky. See my point?

Going back to Argento, does this erase her victimhood? Not really. As the actual founder of the #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke explained in a tweet, "sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn't change if the perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist or professor of any gender." So, just because she abused this man, doesn't mean she wasn’t abused as well. But it’s also true that it shows how our human perceptions of power are so messed up.

As Bennett himself explained, he didn't really want to come out publicly with his story because when it all happened, and even today he "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." Giving money won’t fix what this kid endured, nor what the millions of victims of abuse have to face every single day. I’m sure many more cases will continue to emerge, but more than treating them as mere gossip, we should really carry the conversations on in our everyday lives as a first step to end with these horrible and disgusting behaviors that affect everybody regardless their age or gender.


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