Entertainment & Arts

Asia Argento: #MeToo figurehead denies sexual assault of minor

Italian actress Asia Argento, 19 May 2018 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Asia Argento: "No sex with Bennett"

Italian actress Asia Argento, a leader of the #MeToo movement, has strongly denied an allegation of sexual assault.

Legal documents seen by the New York Times were reported to show she paid former co-star Jimmy Bennett $380,000 (£298,000) after he accused her of sexually assaulting him when he was 17.

In a statement, she says: "I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett".

The actress says she strongly denies the contents of the NYT article.

Quoting documents exchanged between lawyers for Bennett and Argento, the paper details an incident alleged to have taken place in 2013 in a California hotel room when he had just turned 17 and she was 37.

She is alleged to have performed oral sex before engaging in full intercourse with Bennett, a successful child actor and rock musician. The age of consent is 18 in California.

Argento was one of the first to speak out against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 70 women.

She is said by the NYT to have arranged the payment for Bennett "in the months that followed her revelations" about Mr Weinstein in October. The actress accuses Weinstein of sexual assault, which he denies.

The documents say the alleged encounter traumatised Bennett and threatened his mental health and career, according to the New York Times.

A lawyer for the actor, who played Argento's young son in a 2004 film, is also quoted as saying his client decided to sue Ms Argento after seeing her present herself as a victim of sexual assault.

What does Argento say in her denial?

She admits a payment but denies sex.

The actress describes being "deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false".

She states that the relationship was one of "friendship only" and that this ended after her involvement in the Weinstein revelations, when Bennett "unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me".

At the time Argento was romantically involved with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who killed himself in June.

Bourdain, her statement says, wanted the matter to "be handled privately and this was also what Bennett wanted".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jimmy Bennett pictured in Hollywood in 2015

"Anthony was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us.

"We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett's demand for help and give it to him."

The sheriff's department in Los Angeles county, where the alleged assault took place, have said they are trying to contact the alleged victim.

What was the reaction to the allegations?

Most of the reaction came before Argento's rejection of the New York Times account.

In a statement published by Vanity Fair, a lawyer for Mr Bennett said his client would not comment but would take the "next 24 hours, or longer, to prepare his response".

Ben Brafman, a lawyer for Mr Weinstein, said the development revealed "a stunning level of hypocrisy by Asia Argento".

"What is perhaps most egregious is the timing, which suggests that at the very same time Argento was working on her own secret settlement for the alleged sexual abuse of a minor, she was positioning herself at the forefront of those condemning Mr Weinstein, despite the fact that her sexual relationship with Mr Weinstein was between two consenting adults which lasted for more than four years," the lawyer said.

Mr Weinstein was charged in New York this year with sexually assaulting three unnamed women, which he denies.

How did #MeToo react?

Tarana Burke, founder of the movement, said there was "no model survivor" and warned that the latest accusations would be used by some to discredit #MeToo.

She tweeted that the movement was there for male victims as well as female.

Another high-profile accuser of Harvey Weinstein and champion of the #MeToo movement, Rose McGowan, tweeted that she was heartbroken by the accusations against Asia Argento but would not be deterred from continuing her own work.

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