Asia Argento, the Italian actress and #MeToo movement leader who was recently accused of sexually assaulting an underage male actor named Jimmy Bennett, is now claiming that Bennett "sexually attacked" her in 2013. According to her attorney, Argento was the victim in the situation, which he summarized as "a misunderstood interaction between her and Bennett that was initiated by Bennett, perpetrated upon Asia, and resulted in her 'freezing' and being placed in a 'state of shock.'"
I don't believe her. In fact, this is a textbook example of why the fourth-wave feminist notion that we should automatically believe all victims is pernicious.
Why don't I believe Argento? For one thing, she paid Bennett $380,000* to keep him quiet about it. For another, she took a post-sex photo with him in bed, and it does not show a woman who looks like she was just attacked.
The statement by Argento's lawyer claims that Bennett was himself subsequently accused of unlawfully having sex with a minor, in 2014. He would have been 18 or 19 at the time, so the alleged victim was likely just a few years younger than him—not, say, a full two decades younger. Either way, what Bennett did or did not do with someone else isn't relevant to Argento's charges. Whether or not Bennett later had sex with a minor, it matters that Argento had sex with Bennett.
The age of consent in California is 18. In most other states, it's 17, which means Argento committed a crime in only a very technical sense. While I think it was wrong to take advantage of a young man who claimed he saw her as a mother figure to him—and it was certainly wrong to ply him with alcohol, as Argento allegedly did—I'm not sure the law should hold that 17-year-olds have no sexual agency. I am not eager to see Argento prosecuted, unless she truly incapacitated him first.
But even if Argento didn't deserve to be prosecuted, she is not the victim here. Bennett's attorneys have called her position "self-serving and slanderous," which seems accurate. She engineered the situation by inviting him to the hotel room, she provided alcohol, and it appears overwhelmingly likely that she initiated the sex and was perfectly happy about it immediately after.
Argento is probably lying. To be clear, that would make this a false accusation of rape. We don't have good statistics on how common such false accusations are. (Many of the low-ball figures oft-cited by activists are based on questionable data.)
In any case, it's interesting to consider why Argento might be lying. She could be lying because she is suffering social consequences for a sexual incident she now regrets. What probably seemed right to her in the moment is now an embarrassing and costly mistake. Perhaps she thinks lying about what happened is the only way to recover some of her dignity and change the narrative.
It's reasonable to presume that this is not common. But it's naïve to pretend that it almost never, ever, ever happens, which is what campus victims' rights activists expect of the public. In my years writing about campus sexual assault disputes, I have covered dozens if not hundreds of cases that involved an ambiguous situation: Some evidence suggested willingness of both parties to proceed with the encounter, but later one party—usually a woman—said she did not actually give consent. Was she assaulted, or was she later changing her mind about having consented because the encounter was regretted and embarrassing?
I'm not claiming that such lying is common, but I doubt it's as rare as the activist community claims, particularly when it comes to the cases adjudicated under Title IX, the federal statute governing campus sexual misconduct tribunals. Activists assert that it would be crazy to make up a story about being assaulted—who would lie about that? But people lie all the time, about matters big and small. That's one reason the Title IX reforms currently being considered by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are so important. If we shed the belief that alleged victims are always and automatically telling the truth, it becomes more important to actually question the accuser and the accused, to permit some form of cross-examination, and to discover the truth of the matter.
Read more about the latest Argento news in Rolling Stone, a publication that knows a great deal about not believing all victims.
Even further reading: "Asia Argento's Time Is Up."
Update: This post misstated the amount of money Argento paid to Bennett. Though he initially asked for $3.5 million, they agreed to $380,000.