As one of the first women to come forward with rape allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Asia Argento didn’t bother mincing words when she pointed to an audience at the Cannes Film Festival in May of this year and said, “Sitting among you, there are those who still have to be held accountable for their conduct against women. For behavior that does not belong in this industry, does not belong in any industry or workplace. You know who you are, but most importantly, we know who you are, and we’re not going to allow you to get away with it any longer.”
Three months later, her prediction has come to fruition—only not in the way she would’ve likely expected.
According to The New York Times, Argento paid Jimmy Bennett $380,000 after he threatened to sue her for allegedly sexually assaulting him at a hotel in California in 2013. (Argento just came out vehemently denying this.) At the time of the alleged assault, Bennett was 17. Argento was 37. The payment agreement took place a reported three months after Argento publicly accused Weinstein of raping her at the Cannes Film Festival when she was 21, and the first payment installment, according to The New York Times, was made in April 2018. The former child actor that played Argento’s son in the 2004 film The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things said watching his alleged abuser present herself as a victim of sexual assault was “too much to bear,” and, according to Bennett’s lawyer, made him relive his assault. In the notice of intent to sue, Bennett’s lawyer wrote that his client’s “feelings about that day were brought to the forefront when Argento took the spotlight as one of the many victims of Harvey Weinstein.”
As a result, the validity of the #MeToo movement is being questioned, from op-eds in The Los Angeles Times to Twitter trolls looking for a reason to dismiss every sexual assault allegation made by a woman. But news of Argento’s alleged abuse against a young boy is exactly why the #MeToo movement is needed, why it was founded 11 years ago by Tarana Burke and not by Argento or any other white, prominent actress in the movie business, and why continued conversations about the systemic abuse of power must be a cornerstone of our social rhetoric.
As of 1998, 2.78 million men in the United States have been victims of an attempted or completed rape, according to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. One out of every 10 rape victims are male, and a reported three percent of American men have experienced sexual assault. According to a 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 68.6 percent of men reporting sexual assault experienced victimization at the hands of a female perpetrator. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, actor Terry Crews came forward as a victim of sexual assault, alleging that a “high-level” Hollywood executive groped him. While Crews was supported by many, others questioned his masculinity and ridiculed him for not fighting back. Rapper 50 Cent belittled Crews via an Instagram post featuring a shirtless Crews with the words “I got raped. My wife just watched.” The amount of shaming and stigma men face when coming forward with sexual assault allegations allows a culture of silence that impacts everyone, regardless of their gender. The power that allows predators to abuse others is the same power that silences victims into assent. “Real men” aren’t raped. “Strong women” aren’t harassed. It is two sides of the same abusive, patriarchal coin that turns toxic masculinity into a form of security and femininity into an undeniable disadvantage.
Just because cisgender men are more likely to hold positions of power over others doesn’t mean women who find themselves wielding incredible influence cannot use it to the detriment and dehumanization of others.
The fact that women are disproportionately impacted by sexual violence doesn’t negate the fact that men can, and are, sexually abused, too. We cannot separate, say, the sexual abuse of 1,000 young boys by at least 300 Catholic priests from the sexual violence a reported one in six American women will face. More than 100 men coming forward and alleging they were molested by Dr. Richard Strauss, a team doctor and physician at Ohio State University, is not an incident that should be isolated or somehow treated separate from the reported 332 victims of Larry Nassar. Because while no two sexual assault stories are exactly alike, they all have to do with an egregious abuse of power. Just because cisgender men are more likely to hold positions of power over others doesn’t mean women who find themselves wielding incredible influence cannot use it to their advantage and to the detriment and dehumanization of others.
The idea that the allegations against Argento somehow negate the #MeToo movement, or prove rape culture doesn’t exist, highlights our culture’s continued misunderstanding of sexual assault and sexual violence. It was never about what someone wore, how much they had to drink, or how many people they’ve slept with. It was never about an archaic gender binary, or coordinating a group of man-hating feminazis hell-bent on ruining the reputations of problematic men. Sexual assault has been, and always will be, about power; about exacting that power over another human being; about using that power to strip away the bodily autonomy of someone else… simply because you can.
Asia Argento can be a victim of sexual assault and a perpetrator of sexual assault. She can suffer as a result of a rape culture and use it to her insidious advantage. She can be one of the one in six women who has been raped and sustain that cycle of abuse by assaulting an underage boy. As Tarana Burke said via Twitter, “The #metooMVMT is for all of us, including these brave young men who are now coming forward. It will be jarring when we hear the names of some of our faves connected to sexual violence unless we shift from talking about individuals and begin to talk about power. Sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn’t change if the perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist or professor of any gender. And we don’t shift the culture unless we get serious about shifting these false narratives.”
You know who you are, but most importantly, we know who you are, and we’re not going to allow you to get away with it any longer. Regardless.