A young actor who accused actress Asia Argento of having sex with him when he was underage said his trauma resurfaced last year when the Italian actress accused producer Harvey Weinstein of rape.
In a statement issued Wednesday, actor Jimmy Bennett, 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."
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, and Argento is now the subject of a criminal inquiry.
Argento, 42, has been a leading figure in the #MeToo movement and denies Bennett’s allegation. She insists the settlement was paid at the behest of her late partner, television personality Anthony Bourdain, in an effort to avoid bad publicity last year.
On Wednesday, Bennett insisted he was a victim.
"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.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is now investigating the allegation of sex with a minor. Sheriff’s officials said that although they had not received a report on the alleged incident, they were pursuing the matter by trying to interview the people involved.
Argento rebuffed the allegation on Tuesday while admitting to the settlement.
“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.
Argento wrote that Bennett made the claims after she made her own allegations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein last year. Argento accused the movie mogul of raping her in 1997. Weinstein has denied the allegation.
“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.
Argento said Bourdain pushed for the settlement.
“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.
The New York Times report said Bennett’s letter of intent to sue laid out his account of the encounter: On May 9, 2013, Bennett arrived with a family member for a reunion with Argento at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey, and Argento asked the family member to leave. When they were alone, she kissed him, removed his pants and performed oral sex, and then had sex with him, the document stated, according to the newspaper.
The newspaper reported that the settlement, paid in installments, secured the copyright for photos Bennett took during the alleged incident.