The photo is more sensational but less important than the texts are. We already knew it existed, after all: The NYT’s scoop about her and Jimmy Bennett described it. Now TMZ has it. It … does look like “afterglow.”
The texts are key because she admits to a friend that she and Bennett did in fact do the deed. Which directly contradicts her statement after the NYT story broke. “I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett,” she claimed two days ago. “I had sex with him it felt weird,” she says in the texts.
And so the inevitable question: If Argento’s willing to lie on this point, why wouldn’t she also lie in claiming that it was Bennett, not she, who was the aggressor? (“The horny kid jumped me,” she told her friend.) Or that she had no idea Bennett was a minor until he threatened to sue her?
She does have some evidence that he wasn’t an unwilling participant, in case anyone thinks that matters:
Argento says Bennett wrote this note (above) on Ritz-Carlton stationary — the hotel where they hooked up — and said, “Asia, I love you with all my heart. So glad we met again and I’m so glad your in my life. Jimmy.” She texts her friend the note, saying, “He wrote me this afterwards and kept sending me unsolicited nudes all these years up until 2 weeks before the attorneys letter.
She goes on to say … “it wasn’t raped (sic) but I was frozen. He was on top of me. After, he told me I had been his sexual fantasy since was 12.”
He came on to her, or so she says. A Twitter pal notes this tweet she posted on May 9, 2013, though, the day of the alleged sexual encounter. This doesn’t sound like someone hoping for a strictly platonic reunion with a person half her age, who once played her child in a movie. It sounds like, ahem, “before-glow”:
Waiting for my long lost son @JimmyBennett in the hotel room: I cry, I sweat, I pace, I tremble. I am alive. pic.twitter.com/qw3VYxdEtN
— Asia Argento (@AsiaArgento) May 9, 2013
California Penal Code section 261.5:
(c) Any person who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is more than three years younger than the perpetrator is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170.
Notice what’s missing. Most criminal statutes require some proof of a “guilty mind”: Sometimes that means intent, sometimes it means recklessness, other times it means negligence. Typically you can’t be convicted unless the state can show not only that you acted wrongly but that your mindset was wrong too. A famous exception to that rule are statutory-rape laws. Those are crimes of strict liability, i.e. it doesn’t matter what you knew about the victim’s age or whether it was reasonable for you to have presumed from their appearance that they were over 18. If you did the deed, you’re guilty, period. Acting wrongly is enough. The state makes statutory rape a strict-liability crime for an obvious reason: It wants adults to err on the side of avoiding sex whenever their partner looks like he or she might be a minor. All of which is a long way of saying that it doesn’t matter for criminal purposes if Argento thought Bennett was of age. The D.A. can go after her.
Normally it’d be hard to prosecute someone on that charge without the cooperation of the victim, and there’s no evidence (yet) that Bennett wants to go that route. In this case, though, the state doesn’t really need his help. They have the photo and they have texts in which she admits to sex with him. It’s an open-and-shut case, seemingly. Why Argento would have agreed to take photos in bed with Bennett and then to text, rather than call, friends to discuss this, leaving a documentary trail for prosecutors, I can’t fathom. (For that matter, why deny sex with Bennett in a statement if you’re going to turn around the next day and confirm, in digital writing, to someone that it happened?) Does she … understand that this is a crime? One that the D.A. will be under pressure to prosecute in order to signal a zero-tolerance approach to sexual assault in the age of #MeToo?
If Argento isn’t prosecuted or if she gets off with a wrist slap, we’re headed for a messy debate as to why. Some will want the book thrown at her, either to send a message that women preying on immature boys isn’t okay or to see her punished for her hypocrisy in lecturing others about sexual crimes when she had this in her closet all along. I think most of the public will never really accept that a woman of age bedding down a boy — particularly a boy less than a year from his 18th birthday — is wrong in the same way that a man bedding down a girl is. The physical differences loom too large. It’s easy to believe that a man willing to risk prison for “consensual” sex with a teenaged girl might also be willing to force sex on her if she ends up deciding she doesn’t want to do it. The threat of physical coercion is baked in the cake. Maximum deterrence requires zero tolerance.
The same possibility just isn’t there with a woman and an older teenaged boy. And like it or not, our stereotype of the average teenaged boy will mitigate towards leniency for Argento: They’re horny little maniacs, one and all, we think. It was a treat for Bennett to get a roll in the hay with Asia Argento, many would say. (“South Park” has done entire episodes about this.) Just note, for what it’s worth, that Bennett claimed in his lawsuit notice to Argento that he was “extremely confused, mortified, and disgusted” after their encounter and that he didn’t work in movies to the same degree afterward. Maybe that’s evidence of trauma or maybe it’s just the sort of thing you say when you’re shaking someone down for money. It’s possible, though, that he wasn’t mature enough yet for what happened, especially with someone who’d played his mother in a movie 10 years before. That’s why these crimes are prosecuted even when there’s no evidence of physical coercion. It’s an abuse of trust and psychological power, if nothing else.