Prominent Harvey Weinstein accuser and MeToo advocate, Asia Argento, allegedly paid off a young actor who accused her of sexually assaulting him.
Jimmy Bennett, the ex-child actor who says #MeToo hero Asia Argento had sex with him when he was 17, spoke out for the first time Wednesday, saying he was traumatized by the encounter and never reported it because he was “ashamed and afraid.”
“I did not initially speak out about my story because I chose to handle it in private with the person who wronged me,” said Bennett in a statement, according to an email to USA TODAY from Bennett’s lawyer, Gordon Sattro. “My trauma resurfaced as she came out as a victim herself. I have not made a public statement in the past days and hours because I was ashamed and afraid to be part of the public narrative.”
But contrary to what Argento has said denying a sexual encounter, Bennett said a sexual encounter did take place, he was underage at the time, and he was unprepared to deal with the “ramifications” at the time.
“I tried to seek justice in a way that made sense to me at the time because I was not ready to deal with the ramifications of my story becoming public,” his statement said. “At the time I 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.”
Now that he’s 22, he said he’s no longer afraid to speak.
“I have had to overcome many adversities in my life, and this is another that I will deal with, in time. I would like to move past this event in my life, and today I choose to move forward, no longer in silence.”
According to documents sent under mysterious circumstances to The New York Times last week, Argento, then 37, had sex with Bennett, then two months after his 17th birthday, in a Marina del Rey hotel room in 2013, and then quietly agreed to pay him nearly $400,000 as hush money.
The Times said it received documents in an encrypted email that included a selfie of Argento and Bennett in bed together, dated the same day as another selfie of the two she posted on her Instagram about her “reunion” with Bennett.
The age of consent is 18 in California, so such an encounter would have been a crime in 2013 and would theoretically still be possible to prosecute. Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department detectives have said they are looking into the matter.
The private settlement between Argento and Bennett was reached a month after Bennett notified Argento in November 2017 that he intended to sue her over their encounter.
Bennett approached Argento shortly after she went public with her accusation that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein raped her in a hotel room in France in 1997. She then became one of the leading voices of the #MeToo movement to call out sexual abuse, even as she was quietly paying out hush money to someone who accused her of statutory rape.
The Times attempted for days to get a comment from both Argento and Bennett before it posted its story on Sunday. USA TODAY and other media outlets attempted the same in the days since.
Argento finally responded on Tuesday with a statement “strongly denying” she had sex with Bennett and lamenting she is the victim of “long-standing persecution.”
She acknowledged paying Bennett hush money but said that decision and the subsequent arrangements for payment were made by her late boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, who considered Bennett “dangerous” but still deserving of “compassion” given his money woes.
Bourdain committed suicide in June. It is not clear if there is a link between his death and Argento’s conflict with Bennett.
On Wednesday, it was Bennett’s turn to speak out for the first time since the scandal broke.
Bennett is a former child actor, with a list of credits dating to 2002, who’s now a rock musician. He met Argento when he was cast at age 7 in a 2004 movie she co-wrote, directed and starred in, “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.” (She played a prostitute; he played her son, whom she dresses as a girl to lure men. His character is raped in the film.)
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