Italian actress and director Asia Argento was among the first women in the movie business to accuse producer Harvey Weinstein publicly of sexual assault. She became a leading figure in the #MeToo movement. Her boyfriend, culinary television star Anthony Bourdain, eagerly joined the fight.
But in the months that followed her revelations about Weinstein last October, Argento quietly arranged to pay $380,000 to her own accuser: Jimmy Bennett, a young actor and rock musician who said she had sexually assaulted him in a California hotel room years earlier, when he was only two months past his 17th birthday. She was 37. The age of consent in California is 18.
That claim and the subsequent arrangement for payments are laid out in documents between lawyers for Argento and Bennett, a former child actor who once played her son in a movie.
The documents, which were sent to The New York Times through encrypted email by an unidentified party, include a selfie dated May 9, 2013, of the two lying in bed. As part of the agreement, Bennett, who is now 22, gave the photograph and its copyright to Argento, now 42. Three people familiar with the case said the documents were authentic.
The Times has tried repeatedly since Thursday to get a response to the matter from Argento and her representatives. She did not reply to messages left on her phone, sent by email and sent to two of her agents, who agreed to forward them to her. Carrie Goldberg, her lawyer who handled the matter, read email messages from The Times, according to two people familiar with the case, but she has not responded. A woman who answered the phone at Goldberg’s office Friday said the lawyer would not be available to discuss this article.
Bennett, who lives in Los Angeles, would not agree to be interviewed, said his lawyer, Gordon K. Sattro. “In the coming days,” Sattro wrote in an email, “Jimmy will continue doing what he has been doing over the past months and years, focusing on his music.”
In an April letter addressed to Argento confirming the final details of the deal and setting out a schedule of payments, Goldberg characterized the money as “helping Mr. Bennett.”
“We hope nothing like this ever happens to you again,” Goldberg wrote. “You are a powerful and inspiring creator and it is a miserable condition of life that you live among shitty individuals who’ve preyed on both your strengths and your weaknesses.”
But for Bennett, the 2013 hotel-room encounter was a betrayal that precipitated a spiral of emotional problems, according to the documents.
The fallout from “a sexual battery” was so traumatic that it hindered Bennett’s work and income and threatened his mental health, according to a notice of intent to sue that his lawyer sent in November to Richard Hofstetter, Bourdain’s longtime attorney, who was also representing Argento at the time.
Bennett’s notice of intent asked for $3.5 million in damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, lost wages, assault and battery.