Fallout for a leading figure in the #MeToo movement continues, after actress Asia Argento was accused of having sex with actor Jimmy Bennett, who once played her son, when he was below the age of consent. Rose McGowan, a prominent voice in the movement to reveal long-whispered secrets about sexual abuse, harassment, and manipulation in Hollywood and more broadly in all walks of life, released a statement today distancing herself from Argento. Argento has denied the assault took place.
McGowan alleged in the statement that Argento had told McGowan’s romantic partner, Rain Dove, several days ago that Bennett had sent Argento nude photographs of himself since he was 12, and that Argento had taken no action in response. Some of these messages subsequently appeared at the tabloid site TMZ on August 22. Bennett was 17 when he alleges that Argento had sex with him without his consent in California, where the statutory age of consent is 18.
The accusation against Argento have been used as pushback to #MeToo, cited by some who oppose the movement’s scope and nature as an example of hypocrisy, especially in the face of relative silence by McGowan. And the New York Times recently reported on the support by other women of a female professor found in a Title IX investigation at New York University to have been responsible for verbal and physical sexual harassment against a male graduate student. (The professor, Avital Ronell, disputes the findings.)
But the woman who coined the term and started the movement, Tarana Burke, noted, “Sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn’t change if the perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist or professor of any gender.”
After the Bennett allegations first appeared in the New York Times, McGowan received criticism on social media and from colleagues for initially asking for judgment to be withheld and for people to “Be gentle” in a now-deleted tweet made on August 20. In her statement she noted, “The reason I haven’t released a statement is because I’ve frankly been extremely humbled by this event. I had to take a step back and realise that in my own activism while I fight hard with passion—I need to evolve.”
Later in the statement she wrote, “There absolutely should be no leeway or tolerance for sexual assault. Hard stop. NONE.”
Shortly after releasing the statement, McGowan posted the message to Twitter, “I believe in justice”.
At this writing, Dove has not confirmed details contained in McGowan’s statement, nor has Argento replied publicly nor to a request by Fortune to her agency. There has also been no comment yet from Bennett.
McGowan and Argento are among the 90 women who have accused film impresario Harvey Weinstein of a range of sexual harassment and abuse. McGowan said in her book, Brave, that Weinstein raped her. Argento said Weinstein raped her in 1997, and she occasionally had consensual sex with him for five years after out of fear of reprisals against her career.
The #MeToo movement has been marked by both prominent and less-well-known individuals coming forward with stories that range from unprofessional and inappropriate to physical assalt and rape against men in the entertainment, media, architecture, political, and other spheres. In many cases, lawsuits and criminal investigations have followed.