The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is in the early stages of an investigation into allegations that actress Asia Argento sexually abused child actor Jimmy Bennett at a Marina del Rey hotel in 2013.
But like so many sexual abuse allegations in Hollywood over the last year, this case is playing out in the media and the court of public opinion.
Law enforcement authorities from Los Angeles to London have investigated dozens of allegations against Hollywood figures including Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others.
The Argento case, however, is unique because she was one of the leading figures calling out others in Hollywood for alleged wrongdoing.
“It’s a man-bites-dog story, and it’s an anomaly in a serious and profound movement forward,” said Davia Temin, a crisis manager who does research on the #MeToo movement. “It shows that the story gets more complicated.”
Argento emerged as a powerful figure in the #MeToo movement in fall 2017 after telling the New Yorker that during the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, Weinstein invited her to his hotel suite, came out in a bathrobe and sexually assaulted her. At this year’s festival, she delivered a bold speech about the alleged experience.
“In 1997, I was raped by Harvey Weinstein — here at Cannes. I was 21 years old. This festival was his hunting ground,” she said in remarks that drew loud cheers and applause.
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Bennett was paid a $380,000 settlement after he accused Argento of sexually assaulting him in a Marina del Rey hotel room when he was 17. In California, the age of consent is 18.
The newspaper reported that the settlement, paid in installments, secured the copyright for photos Bennett took during the alleged incident.
On the day of the alleged incident, Argento posted a photo on Instagram showing her hugging Bennett, referring to him as “My son, my love,” and included the month and year.
Q: Where is the case now?
Sheriff’s Department officials said they are trying to reach out to all parties in the case.
No complaint was filed at the time by Bennett, which is usually the first step in a criminal investigation.
But the department said it would examine the matter anyway.
Legal experts have said the alleged incident would fall within the statute of limitations for sexual assault. Some of the allegations in the #MeToo movement were not prosecuted because they fell outside the statute.
As of Wednesday, it was unclear if detectives had interviewed either Bennett or Argento. Attorneys declined to comment.
New details have emerged all week, including photos of Argento and Bennett together.
Q: What does Argento say?
Argento admitted to the settlement but insisted she did nothing wrong.
“I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false. I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett,” Argento said in a statement to the Guardian newspaper and the Huffington Post.
“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,” she said.
Q: Why does Bennett say he did not immediately report the incident?
In a statement issued Wednesday, Bennett, now 22, said that until now he was afraid and ashamed to speak about an incident he said happened in 2013.
“I did not initially speak out about my story because I chose to handle it in private with the person who wronged me. My trauma resurfaced as she came out as a victim herself,” he said in the statement. “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.
“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 said in his statement. “I would like to move past this event in my life, and today I choose to move forward, no longer in silence.”
Bennett said also that he “tried to seek justice in a way that made sense to me.”
They had worked together on a movie several years before the meeting at the Marina del Rey hotel.
Q: How is this case connected to Anthony Bourdain?
Argento said she made the settlement at the urging of Bourdain, who she was dating at the time.
Bourdain, a legendary food author and television personality, became an outspoken supporter of the #MeToo movement.
“Anthony insisted the matter be handled privately and this was also what Bennett wanted. Anthony was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such a person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us,” Argento said in her statement.
Bourdain killed himself in June.
Q: Where does this leave the #MeToo movement?
Many #MeToo movement activists have expressed outrage at what Argento has been accused of doing. And some say it’s a reminder that many sexual assault allegations are at their core about unfair power dynamics.
Genie Harrison, an attorney representing one of Weinstein’s accusers, said abuse of power can never be ignored, even if the alleged wrongdoer is a #MeToo leader.
“Though it seems incomprehensible for victims to become victimizers, history and storytelling are replete with examples of exactly this transformation,” Harrison said. “Victims need support and excellent therapy to have the best chance for full recovery and healthy relationships, including with themselves.”