As the #MeToo movement has gained steam, so have attempts to delegitimize accusers and victims of abuse; all too often, we hear “well, why didn’t she say something sooner?” Or, “this is a money-grab; she’s obviously a gold-digger trying to take him down,” in relation to female accusers who come forward with accusations against powerful men.
But what happens when the accuser is a man and the woman he accuses has been publicly identified as a victim herself? This is the paradox that arose on Monday, when a New York Times report revealed that Italian actress and director Asia Argento, who has been extremely vocal about her alleged rape at the hands of multiply-accused producer Harvey Weinstein, had recently paid a substantial settlement with her own accuser.
Argento’s accuser, actor Jimmy Bennett, played her son in a film almost a decade years prior to the alleged 2013 assault in a California hotel room, at which time Bennett was 17 (the age of consent in California is 18). After filing suit, in April 2018 he received $380,000 from Argento, a deal quietly and legally negotiated in return for dropping the lawsuit and handing over incriminating evidence.
Obviously, this type of revelation is devastating for a movement largely dependent on the integrity of its accusers, mostly women, who are asking that the public trust their stories and support them in taking action. Accordingly, on Monday morning #MeToo founder Tarana Burke urged supporters not to lose faith in the movement or its intentions, sending out a series of tweets on the issue which validated Bennett’s status as a victim and asked us to remain focused on the bigger issue of sexual abuse, rather than the individual players.
Of course, compounding the issue is the fact that white female accusers like Argento and Rose McGowan have in many ways co-opted the movement and hashtag Burke initially began to support black and brown girls and women; a movement she generously and without complaint expanded to include all victims of sexual violence after the #MeToo hashtag was appropriated amidst the first wave of Weinstein allegations.
Burke told The Root’s cameras she was initially concerned that the message of the movement she founded might be “diluted” by association with the accusations against Weinstein, which were leveled by predominantly white-female actresses. Ultimately, Burke contended that “#MeToo is for everyone.”
And now, in light of Argento’s own troubling history, Burke is asking that everyone continue to have nuanced conversations concerning sexual assault, and not allow the #MeToo movement to be diluted or derailed by the actions of a sole individual.
“There is no one way to be a perpetrator … and there is no model survivor,” Burke tweeted. In another tweet, she wrote:
People will use these recent news stories to try and discredit this movement — don’t let that happen. This is what Movement is about. It’s not a spectator sport. It is people-generated. We get to say “this is/isn’t what this movement is about!”
As reported by the Hollywood Reporter, writer, activist and Russell Simmons accuser Sil Lai Abrams also unleashed her own series of tweets about the revelations, admitting that she was also “frightened about the potential implications [Argento’s] actions have for the #MeToo movement overall,” but also acknowledging one simple, if deeply uncomfortable, truth:
“A person can be a victim and a perpetrator. One fact does not erase the other. Irrespective of their gender, perpetrators must be held accountable.”
And that is the nuance at the crux of this particular conversation, and arguably, a vital part of the larger conversation we need to continue having about sexual violence, and how its repercussions can sometimes be far-reaching and cyclical. As we ask people to be both accountable and compassionate, we must also be willing to acknowledge all types of power dynamics, and recognize that when it comes to discussions about sexual assault, it isn’t a question of gender, but of humanity.