Jimmy Bennett, the 22-year-old actor who is accusing actress and filmmaker Asia Argento of sexual assault, has explained why he kept quiet about his alleged experience for so long.
Meanwhile, Argento has pulled out of a Dutch music festival amid backlash from the allegations, and Italy's "X-Factor" — which Argento co-hosts — is looking to cut ties with the #MeToo figurehead if Bennett's assault claim is confirmed.
What's the background?
On Tuesday, Argento vehemently denied that she sexually assaulted a 17-year-old boy more than five years ago. In a statement, Argento said that the purported victim was extorting her for financial gain.
Argento — who was dating the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain at the time of his death — added that Bourdain was at least partially responsible for paying off her alleged victim, and that it was orchestrated at the late chef’s request.
Argento — who was one of the very first women to come out to accuse embattled film mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault — was 37 years old at the time that she allegedly sexually assaulted the 17-year-old Bennett.
The age of consent in California is 18 years old.
Bennett alleged that Argento invited him to her hotel room in 2013, where she plied him with alcohol, performed oral sex on him, and then had intercourse with him.
Bennett and Argento starred in 2004's “The Heart is Deceitful Above all Things” together, a film in which Bennett played the role of Argento’s character’s son. He was about 7 or 8 years old during filming.
A Sunday New York Times report alleged that Argento settled with Bennett for a sum of about $380,000 over the allegations.
You can read more details on the allegations and the background here.
What did Argento say in her response?
On Tuesday, journalist Yashar Ali shared a statement from Argento on the matter.
The statement read:
I strongly deny and oppose the contents of the New York Times article dated 20 August 2018, as circulated also in national and international news.
I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false. I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.
I was linked to him during several years by friendship only, which ended when, subsequent to my exposure in the Weinstein case, Bennett — who was then undergoing severe economic problems and who had previously undertaken legal actions against his own family requesting millions in damages — unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me. Bennett knew my boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, was a man of great perceived wealth and had his own reputation as a beloved public figure to protect.
[Anthony] insisted the matter be handled privately and this was also what Bennett wanted. 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. Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions into our life.
This is, therefore, the umpteenth development of a sequence of events that brings me great sadness and that constitutes a long-standing persecution. I have therefore no other choice but to oppose such false allegations and will assume in the short term all necessary initiatives for my protection before all competent venues.
On Tuesday, TMZ reported that Argento paid Bennett the amount of $380,000 for a purported post-coital photo.
The outlet reported that they had seen the photo in question, and it featured a selfie of Argento snuggled with “then-17-year-old Jimmy Bennett on a bed, shirtless, their foreheads pressed together, her arm over his as they lay with satisfied smiles.”
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. has reportedly opened an investigation into the alleged incident.
Below is a photo shared by TMZ on Wednesday.
Asia Argento and 17-Year-Old Boy in Bed in Sexual Encounter https://t.co/y6EeKOdPT7
— TMZ (@TMZ) August 22, 2018
What did Bennett say?
In a statement on Wednesday to the New York Times, Bennett explained why he sat on his allegations for so long and admitted that he was "afraid and ashamed" to say anything.
“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,” he 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.”
Bennett went on to explain that he was motivated to go public with the story when Argento outed herself as a victim of Weinstein.
“I did not initially speak out about my story because I choose to handle it in private with the person who wronged me,” Bennett explained. “My trauma resurfaced as she came out as a victim herself.”
The former child actor added, “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.”
And what about the music festival?
On Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that Argento withdrew from a Dutch music festival in which she was supposed to participate.
Organizers of the festival released a Wednesday statement saying "due to the volatile nature of the accusations surrounding Ms. Argento, she has chosen to withdraw from her curatorship of this year's edition, while these issues remain open."
The festival is set to take place in November.
... And 'X-Factor?'
On Monday, Sky Italia and FreemantleMedia Italia — those behind the Italian iteration of the "X-Factor" — announced that Argento — who is one of the show's judges as of this year — would be cut from the production if the Times story were discovered to be true.
A statement from production read:
Sky Italia and FremantleMedia Italia have read today with great attention and in astonishment the news regarding Asia Argento published by the New York Times.
It should be made clear that Sky Italia and Fremantle did not pick Asia Argento as a judge of X Factor Italy for her commitment to the #Metoo campaign, nor for her personal stances, but rather - as it has always been the case when it came to choose the judges of X Factor Italy - for her musical skills and ability to manage a television role in a show like this.
Skills and abilities widely proven during the show auditions, recorded in recent weeks, as the large audience attending them could easily confirm.
That said, we want to be very clear: if the allegations reported by the New York Times today were to be confirmed, the issue would be absolutely inconsistent with Sky’s ethical principles and values and therefore - in full agreement with FremantleMedia - we would have no choice but to take note of it and put an end to the collaboration with Asia Argento.
In May, Argento patted herself on the back for being involved with the show after being "slut-shamed for months on prime time [TV] and front page of newspapers."
Especially because I will be working in Italy. Where I was slut-shamed for months on prime time Tv and front page of newspapers. For months. Sweet. Bittersweet.
— Asia Argento (@AsiaArgento) May 29, 2018
The show is set to start airing Sept. 6.
And those text messages.
TMZ obtained a copy of a text message exchange that the entertainment news organization alleged occurred between Argento and an unnamed friend.
One such message, purportedly sent by Argento, read, "The public knows nothing, only what NYT wrote. Which is one-sided. The shakedown letter. The horny kid jumped me."
A second, unidentified party responded by asking if Bennett had raped or assaulted who TMZ said was Argento.
The user purported to be Argento answered, "I had sex with him it felt weird. I didn't know he was a minor until the shakedown letter."
You can view the messages that TMZ published in their entirety here.