Unpacking the Asia Argento accusations: When the alleged victim becomes the alleged abuser


The New York Times published an explosive story on Sunday, alleging Harvey Weinstein accuser and prominent #MeToo movement figure Asia Argento quietly paid off a young actor who accused her of sexual assault.

Argento paid 22-year-old Jimmy Bennett, who played her son in the 2004 movie The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, $380,000 after he said she sexually assaulted him in a hotel room in California when he was 17 and she was 37, the New York Times reports. In California, the age of consent is 18. The payment reportedly happened just a few months after Argento publicly accused Weinstein of forcibly performing oral sex on her.

Bennett’s claim and arrangement for payment were spelled out in documents between lawyers for Argento and Bennett that were sent to the Times by an unidentified party, along with a selfie from May 9, 2013, of the two lying in bed.

The documents allege that Argento was a mentor and motherly figure for Bennett in the years after they worked together and that on the day of the assault, he visited her in a hotel room along with a family member. Argento reportedly asked the family member to leave so she could be alone with Bennett, gave him alcohol, and showed him several notes she had written to him. “Then she kissed him, pushed him back on the bed, removed his pants and performed oral sex. She climbed on top of him and the two had sex,” according to the Times report on the documents.

Later on the day of the alleged incident, Argento posted a photo on Instagram of the two together and referenced Bennett as her “son.”

According to the documents, Bennett made more than $2.7 million in the five years before the alleged assault, but now makes $60,000 a year. He attributes the drop in income to trauma from the sexual assault, his lawyer wrote, per the Times.

Asia Argento poses with Jimmy Bennett in an Instagram photo.
Asia Argento poses with Jimmy Bennett in an Instagram photo.

Asia Argento poses with Jimmy Bennett in a photo she posted in 2013 on Instagram. (Photo: asiaargento via Instagram)

It seems unfathomable that a victim of abuse would go on to abuse another person but “sadly, this is very common,” licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Mayer cites clerical abuse as an example: He has conducted research on the subject and found a “cyclical pattern of abuse.” “So many of the clergy I studied that were abusers had been abused themselves,” he says.

This risk is especially increased if the person was a child or young person when he or she was abused, Gail Saltz, MD, a psychiatrist and the author of The Power of Different, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. However, she adds, “how much exactly is hard to say.”

“The reason is that the brain tries to manage trauma by in some way repeating it, but by repeating it being in the powerful position such that one is not revictimized,” Saltz explains. “These defense mechanisms, called repetition compulsion, and identification with the aggressor may temporarily and even unconsciously seem to reduce the anxiety but obviously they are maladaptive, as they ultimately victimize someone else.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean that all victims of sexual assault will go on to abuse others. But it’s important for victims to “experience and understand the wrongfulness of the act that was committed on them” in order to help break the cycle, often through the help of therapy, Mayer said.

“The aim of therapy is to understand the trauma that did occur, make one’s feelings about it all conscious, and work through a road to recovery, preventing one from acting out on the unconscious defense mechanism of revictimization,” Saltz said.

But if a victim doesn’t acknowledge and work through those feelings, “then victims can begin to believe that such behavior must be condoned by society and therefore permissible,” Mayer said.

Neither Argento nor Bennett has publicly responded to the New York Times story.

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