The actor who accused Italian actress and director Asia Argento of sexual assault broke his silence Wednesday, three days after a report detailed a deal that the two struck after his claim.
In his first public statement on the matter, former child actor and musician Jimmy Bennett said he was "ashamed and afraid to be a part of the public narrative."
"I did not initially speak out about my story because I chose to handle it in private with the person who wronged me," he added. "My trauma resurfaced as she came out as a victim herself."
Argento has denied allegations laid out in the New York Times report of the deal. "I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false," Argento said Tuesday. "I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett."
The Times reported that in March, Argento "quietly arranged to pay $380,000″ to Bennett, "who said she had sexually assaulted him in a California hotel room years earlier," when he was 17 and she was 37. (The age of consent in California is 18.) The newspaper cited documents between Argento's and Bennett's attorneys that were sent to the newspaper by an unknown party through encrypted email.
At first, Bennett nor Argento provided comments to the Times, but the story gained considerable traction, especially because Argento has become an outspoken advocate of the #MeToo movement after she went public with accusations of sexual assault against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein in October.
On Wednesday, Bennett said, "I was underage when the event took place, and I tried to seek justice in a way that made sense to me at the time because I was not ready to deal with the ramifications of my story becoming public."
He continued: "At the time I believed there was still a stigma to being in the situation as a male in our society. I didn't think that people would understand the event that took place from the eyes of a teenage boy."
The Times article stated that a lawyer who handled the matter described the deal as "helping Mr. Bennett." Bennett, however, described the 2013 encounter in the hotel as "sexual battery" and said the trauma affected his work, mental health and income, according to the Times.
Bennett played Argento's son in a 2004 movie, "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things."
"I was linked to him during several years by friendship only, which ended when, subsequent to my exposure in the Weinstein case, Bennett - who was then undergoing severe economic problems and who had previously undertaken legal actions against his own family requesting millions in damages - unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me," Argento said Tuesday. "Bennett knew my boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, was a man of great perceived wealth and had his own reputation as a beloved public figure to protect."
According to Argento, Bourdain - who died in June - "insisted the matter be handled privately" and was "afraid of the possible negative publicity that such a person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us."
"We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett's demand for help and give it to him. Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life," Argento continued. "This is, therefore, the umpteenth development of a sequence of events that brings me great sadness and that constitutes a long-standing persecution. I have therefore no other choice but to oppose such false allegations and will assume in the short term all necessary initiatives for my protection before all competent venues."
The Times report added a new chapter to the ongoing public dialogue around sexual misconduct, sparked in large part by the allegations against Weinstein.
On Monday, Weinstein's attorney used the report to try to undermine the accusations made against his client, who faces criminal charges in New York. "This development reveals a stunning level of hypocrisy by Asia Argento, one of the most vocal catalysts who sought to destroy Harvey Weinstein," attorney Benjamin Brafman said.
Tarana Burke, the activist who founded #MeToo, weighed in as well, writing in a series of tweets that the movement is "for all of us, including these brave young men who are now coming forward."
"My hope is that as more folks come forward, particularly men, that we prepare ourselves for some hard conversations about power and humanity and privilege and harm," she continued. "A shift can happen. This movement is making space for possibility. But, it can only happen after we crack open the whole can of worms and get really comfortable with the uncomfortable reality that there is no one way to be a perpetrator and there is no model survivor. We are imperfectly human and we all have to be accountable for our individual behavior."