He was 17 years and two months at the time in a state, California, where the age of consent is 18. Which means my headline should read “rape” instead of “sex,” no?
Either way, here’s another stranger-than-fiction reminder that modern reality is in fact a simulation written by crackheads with a thing for melodrama.
At first blush I thought this must be a case of someone trying to shake her down because of her prominence in #MeToo. It’s unfathomable that one of Harvey Weinstein’s most outspoken accusers would have taken a public role about sexual abuse knowing that this skeleton was rattling around in her own closet, waiting to spring out. Maybe her accuser thought she’d be willing to pay up to smother even a bogus allegation, knowing how it would wreck her standing as an activist if he went to the papers with it.
But there are photos.
The documents, which were sent to The New York Times through encrypted email by an unidentified party, include a selfie dated May 9, 2013, of the two lying in bed. As part of the agreement, [Jimmy] Bennett, who is now 22, gave the photograph and its copyright to Ms. Argento, now 42. Three people familiar with the case said the documents were authentic…
The document lays out Mr. Bennett’s account: Ms. Argento asked the family member to leave so she could be alone with the actor. She 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.
Later that day she posted a close-up of their faces on Instagram with the caption, “Happiest day of my life reunion with @jimmymbennett xox,” and added that “jimmy is going to be in my next movie and that is a fact, dig that jack.” That post and others were included with the notice of intent, along with three photos apparently taken by Mr. Bennett that depict him and Ms. Argento in bed, their unclothed torsos exposed.(Only one of the photos taken in bed shows both their faces.)
She cast Bennett in one of her movies, in the role of her son, in 2004 when he was all of seven years old. Bennett claims that he was traumatized by the encounter and barely works in Hollywood anymore because of it despite his promising start as a child actor. He came to Argento last November threatening to sue, allegedly outraged after she presented herself as a spokesperson for sexual-assault victims due to her experience with Weinstein. After asking for $3.5 million, he settled in April for $380,000 — which is curious, as he seemingly had her dead to rights. Why take a tenth of what you wanted when you have a blockbuster claim of statutory rape, photos to support it, and your assailant’s reputation depends entirely on you maintaining your silence?
One possible answer: The agreement doesn’t prevent Bennett from discussing what happened. California law bars NDAs with allegations like Bennett’s, notes the Times, so he’s still free to sell his story. What he can’t do is sue Argento or publish the photos of them in bed, whose copyrights she now owns.
Right now you’re wondering, “What does Rose McGowan, Argento’s partner in the #MeToo effort against Weinstein, think of all this? She’s not siding with Argento over the victim, is she?” She is not…
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
…or is she?
Argento’s scandal won’t kill #MeToo but an effort by #MeToo leaders to support one of their own against a credible accusation — by a then-child, no less — might. Without the photos you could conjure a scenario in which Bennett, now down on his luck career-wise, is blackmailing Argento with a false accusation in order to make bank. (The NYT notes that he sued his parents a few years ago for allegedly cheating him out of his earnings.) But how to explain a picture of her topless in bed with him? What’s the “innocent” explanation? Has the Times misdescribed the photos somehow? Did he manipulate the timestamp on them to falsely suggest that they were taken when he was still a minor?
This story’s going to turn even darker as people wonder if the Bennett matter affected Anthony Bourdain, Argento’s boyfriend. There’s no evidence in the Times story that it did but they do make a point of noting that Bourdain was aware of it: His lawyer was representing Argento when Bennett notified her of his intent to sue and Bourdain “helped [her] navigate the matter.” Argento has yet to comment. A lingering question: The lawsuit threat Bennett sent her claims that she was the one who asked him to take photos. Why on earth would she want to document herself committing statutory rape? Either she mistakenly believed Bennett was of age or she wanted some sort of trophy of the encounter, which, good lord. Presumably she’s going to end up arguing that she didn’t realize the age of consent in America is different than it is back home in Italy, where it’s, uh, 14. Think the local DA will care?