“ASIA ARGENTO LAUNCHES ‘PHASE TWO’ OF THE #METOO MOVEMENT,” begins Heller’s statement. It defines the second phase as one in which “all victims, whether or not they have led a blemish-less life, should have the courage to come forward and not be afraid that the abuse that they are complaining of will be colored by any negative dynamics in their history.” Which is to say that someone who has what Heller calls a “gray area” in their past like Argento does—that “gray area” being the question of whether she took advantage of the teen who once played her son in a movie—should still be able to speak out about abuse they’ve endured. It’s sort of a reversal of the Bible’s “let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.”
Isn’t that redundant, though? All along, #MeToo has insisted that the possible imperfections of an accuser should not keep them silent. When news of Bennett’s allegations became public, for example, a lot of folks in the movement responded by pointing out that they didn’t invalidate Argento’s own tales of having endured abuse. “Many perpetrators of sexual violence are themselves victims of it,” my colleague Hannah Giorgis wrote, echoing those responses. “This neither absolves Argento of her alleged crimes nor renders her own story of victimization void.”
Asia Argento, #MeToo, and the complicated question of power
It’s hard to avoid a suspicion of another motive, then, to Argento acting as though she’s the first champion of this point of view. The statement offers the supposedly expanded scope of “Phase Two” even to Bennett, who, “interestingly enough,” Argento thinks has a right to speak out against her despite his “troubled history.” The statement spends an inordinate amount of space describing that history, listing “his stalled acting career,” “a lawsuit against his own parents,” “a history of drug use,” and police investigations of allegations of misconduct with minors. It’s unclear whether the public is to disregard such “troubled pasts” in “Phase Two,” or whether “Phase Two” just means paying more attention to this particular accuser’s troubles.
Heller’s statement calls the Argento-Bennett situation a “crazy tangled web of sexual interactions,” but there’s no disputing a $380,000 deal was made with Bennett in 2017, of which $250,000 has been paid. Argento claims that this agreement was reached because her late partner Anthony Bourdain simply wanted to end Bennett’s extortion efforts against Argento, even though she says Bennett was the one who had assaulted her. She now says she will not pay out the rest of the settlement. Bennett’s story is that the deal was, as stated in the documents that the Times obtained a copy of, recognition that Argento had behaved inappropriately with him.
What is the wider world supposed to do with these competing stories? Heller’s statement excoriates the media for trying situations such as these in the “Court of Public Opinion,” which enables “fake news.” But it also expresses hope that “in the Court of Public Opinion it will ultimately be determined that Asia never initiated an inappropriate sexual contact with a minor, but rather she was attacked by Bennett and might even be suffering the fallback of a smear campaign by those already accused who may have a vested interest in their accusers being denied credibility.”