A piece by Katie Glass in today’s Sunday Times:
A 17-year-old actor goes to a hotel room to meet an older, more powerful Hollywood figure and leaves claiming to have been sexually assaulted. It’s a story we’ve heard often since the #MeToo campaign began. Except, unusually, in this case the alleged victim is a man and the accused a woman. What is worrying is how differently this story has been received, even by some of the strongest proponents of the #MeToo movement.
News broke last week that the actress Asia Argento, a figurehead of #MeToo, paid the former child-actor Jimmy Bennett $380,000 (£296,000) in hush-money after he claimed she assaulted him in a California hotel in 2013. He was 17, she 37.
Rose McGowan, a vocal #MeToo campaigner, who like Argento claims to have been assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, quickly tweeted: “None of us know the truth of the situation and I’m sure more will be revealed. Be gentle.”
How different this was from when McGowan implored people to “believe survivors”. Or, more specially, “believe women”. But, as so often with calls to support female victims, the same compassion is not extended to men.
Incredulous commentators have poured scorn on his claims that he met Argento — who had played his on-screen mother — in a hotel room. There, he says, she gave him alcohol, pushed him onto the bed and performed a sexual act on him before they had full sex.
Argento’s response has been equally dismissive. Text messages have emerged in which she describes Bennett as a “horny kid”, while she questions the age of consent. Bennett was underage at the time, the age of consent in California being 18. “15 in France and Italy,” Argento considers casually in the texts.
This is the same Argento who described “the little girl that I was when I was 21” when Weinstein allegedly assaulted her in a hotel room in Cannes. In that account, Argento implored us to be sensitive to the complexity of sexual abuse, describing how she “felt responsible” because she stopped fighting Weinstein off; how they stayed in touch, he bought her gifts and they later had consensual sex because she believed otherwise he’d ruin her career.
Argento asks us to understand the grey areas that complicate abuse. Yet in her consideration of Bennett such nuance is lost. As a man, he is painted in black-and-white terms: a “horny kid” and “a failed child actor” who “jumped” her and is attempting a “shakedown”.
Argento fails to mention how she sent Bennett an engraved bracelet after their encounter. Or how she uploaded a picture of them together, promising “Jimmy is going to be in my next movie”.
In a statement, Bennett says he worried about the stigma of being a male victim of sexual assault but also: “I didn’t think that people would understand the event that took place from the eyes of a teenage boy.” It seems he is right.
A report last week into the death of the British solicitor David Edwards, stabbed through the heart by his wife, concluded the perception that men cannot be victims of domestic abuse may have contributed to his death. So, too, the perception that men cannot be pressured into sex makes it harder for them to share their experiences.
Bennett’s accusations do not undermine Argento’s claims against Weinstein. However, they do suggest #MeToo should not be a battle over gender but a takedown of all abuses of power. Bennett’s story is not a chance to undermine female victims. It’s a reminder that #MeToo must include #MenToo in its concerns.
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