For many of us, the allegations against Asia Argento for sexual assault make us uncomfortable. Argento has been a leader in the #MeToo Movement—one of the first to come forward about Harvey Weinstein and a passionate speaker about the issue of sexual coercion, particularly in Hollywood. I saw her speak on a panel at the Women of the World conference in New York earlier this year and was inspired. She was angry and determined. She was fiery and unapologetic. It isn’t easy to reconcile this view of her as victim-turned-warrior with the picture now being painted of her as a sexual predator.
My first reaction to the allegations was disappointment. As much as I wanted this not to have happened (for him, for her, for us), I had no trouble believing that someone with a history of being abused and then finding herself in a position of power, would then also abuse. Sexual abuse is a crime of the abuse of power. Often sexual abuse occurs through some sort of coercion rather than brute force. Although we commonly think of sexual abuse as related the power differential between men and women, in this case, the power differential is between an adult and a child (legally speaking).
Argento’s accuser was seventeen when they allegedly had sex, which is below the age of consent in California. This is rape (although these charges don’t seem likely to be brought). For a woman twenty years older with considerable influence in the field the teenager is in and who claimed a maternal role in his life after actually playing his mother in a movie to then engage in any sexual acts is coercive as best. Teenagers are vulnerable in many ways and while he may not have realized in the moment that there was something wrong with this interaction, she should have. I repeat, although charges have not be filed, what Jimmy Bennett has accused her of is rape.
In some ways, this case is completely unremarkable… a person in power in Hollywood takes advantage of the vulnerability of a teenage actor for their own pleasure. There are no acceptable excuses. It does not excuse her because she was also abused. It does not excuse her that he was cooperative—or even if he enjoyed it. The standards we are just starting to hold men to must apply to her as well. She must be held accountable in the same way we want power men to be held accountable. Imagine if this was a 37 year old male director and producer who had once played the father of his victim. She was 17. Now, five years later, in a safer culture (largely due to the #MeToo movement), she is brave enough to come forward. Would our reaction be any different?
Mine would not. I would still be disappointed—and angry. I would still believe the victim. I would still want them held accountable. I would still not watch their movies. Argento’s actions do not negate her own position as a victim and her perpetrator is not off the hook just because she also abused. But I do not want her as a representative of the #MeToo movement anymore. I no longer look to her as a guide or as inspiration. It is hard for me to imagine how she could have missed the crime in her own actions while she was so clearly able to identify it in the actions of others. There are no perfect victims and to expect perfection before believing puts us all in danger. This is not what I am asking for. Victims will be flawed, as we all are, but when they become perpetrators they lose the right to lead us. She deserves justice for the crimes committed against her, as does Jimmy Bennett for the crimes she allegedly committed against him.
The #MeToo Movement has been building since Tarana Burke first coined the phrase in 2006. Argento was part of the Hollywood wave that began in October 2017. Since then, the wave has washed through government, athletics, education, and the music, restaurant, and business industries. The trend toward believing victims and demanding accountability from their perpetrators in an incredible advancement for our society. This means that we will see people we thought we knew or looked up to identified as sex offenders. The #MeToo era will be uncomfortable at times—changing the status quo always is.
Article by Claire Ryder
VERVE Operative USA & Humanitarian Activist