Asia Argento Denies Sexual Assault of Young Actor

Asia Argento pushed back Tuesday against the actor Jimmy Bennett’s claims that she had sexually assaulted him when he was 17.

Asia Argento, the Italian actress and director who has positioned herself as a leading figure in the #MeToo movement, pushed back Tuesday against a New York Times report that she had arranged to pay the actor Jimmy Bennett after he accused her of sexually assaulting him when he was 17.

In a statement, Ms. Argento said that she had never had sex with Mr. Bennett. Hours later, Mr. Bennett’s lawyer, Gordon K. Sattro, said that her denial was false and that he was working with his client on a statement. By Wednesday morning, Mr. Bennett and his advisers had still not issued one.

The responses were the first public comment from either side since The Times approached the actors with questions about documents showing that Ms. Argento had arranged to pay $380,000 to Mr. Bennett, after he notified her last November that he would sue over their May 2013 encounter in a California hotel room. The age of consent in that state is 18.

Ms. Argento, who for five days has not responded to The Times’s requests for comment, forcefully denied Tuesday that she had assaulted Mr. Bennett.

“I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false,” she said in a statement circulated on social media. “I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett.”

His claim, she said, “constitutes a longstanding persecution.”

But she acknowledged that she had paid Mr. Bennett, and that her boyfriend Anthony Bourdain, the culinary and travel personality who killed himself in June, had put up money for the arrangement. She said the payment was intended to help Mr. Bennett out of his financial troubles.

The Times had been sent documents, through encrypted email by an unidentified party, that included a selfie dated May 9, 2013, of Mr. Bennett and Ms. Argento lying in bed. As part of their agreement, Mr. Bennett, who is now 22, gave the photograph and its copyright to Ms. Argento, now 42. Three people familiar with the case said the documents were authentic.

“We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting, which was based on verified documents and multiple sources,” said Danielle Rhoades Ha, a spokeswoman for The Times. “It is worth noting that Ms. Argento, her lawyer and agent were contacted repeatedly and given four days to respond to the story.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said Monday that it was aware of Mr. Bennett’s claims and had reached out to the young actor and his representatives in order to document any possible criminal activity. Mr. Sattro, the actor’s lawyer, said he had not yet responded to the inquiry.

The documents obtained by The Times included a letter to Ms. Argento from Carrie Goldberg, her lawyer in the matter, that characterized the $380,000 payment as “helping Mr. Bennett.”

In her statement on Monday, she said Mr. Bourdain had helped her navigate the claim and finance the payments, which began with a $200,000 lump sum in April.

Ms. Argento said in the statement that Mr. Bennett was in trouble financially and knew Mr. Bourdain “as a man of great perceived wealth and his own reputation as a beloved public figure to protect.”

Mr. Bourdain, she said, feared the publicity that the claim might bring and suggested the matter be handled privately.

“We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett’s demand for help and give it to him,” Ms. Argento wrote. “Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life.”

Kimberly Witherspoon, Mr. Bourdain’s longtime agent and a spokeswoman for his wife, Ottavia Busia, from whom he was separated, would not comment on Ms. Argento’s statement.

In the agreement between the two actors, $10,000 payments were to be made monthly, with the final payment due on Oct. 1, 2019, according to a schedule of payments included in the agreement.

Mr. Bennett, a child actor who charmed Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis and earned the nickname Jimmy Two-Takes because he rarely flubbed his lines, said he felt betrayed when he saw Ms. Argento come forward in October with her account of being sexually assaulted by the movie producer Harvey Weinstein at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997.

Mr. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to six felony counts in New York, including first-degree rape; none are related to Ms. Argento. His lawyers have said their relationship was consensual.

Mr. Weinstein’s lawyer Benjamin Brafman issued a statement on Monday saying that “the sheer duplicity of her conduct is quite extraordinary and should demonstrate to everyone how poorly the allegations against Mr. Weinstein were actually vetted and accordingly, cause all of us to pause and allow due process to prevail, not condemnation by fundamental dishonesty.”

In November, a month after Ms. Argento first spoke out about her experience with Mr. Weinstein in a New Yorker article, Mr. Bennett sent her a notice of his intent to sue over what he said was a case of sexual battery in a hotel room at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey, Calif. The aftermath of the 2013 encounter had left him betrayed and precipitated a number of emotional problems, according to the notice of intent; the document was sent to Richard Hofstetter, Mr. Bourdain’s longtime lawyer, who was also representing Ms. Argento at the time.

The notice asked for $3.5 million in damages for the intentional infliction of emotional distress, lost wages, assault and battery. It said that Mr. Bennett had made more than $2.7 million in the five years before the 2013 meeting with Ms. Argento, but that his income has since dropped to an average of $60,000 a year, which he attributed to the trauma that followed the sexual encounter with Ms. Argento.

Ms. Argento, who is divorced and has two children, was both a mentor and a mother figure to Mr. Bennett, the notice said.

Mr. Bennett was 7 when he was cast in “The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things,” a 2004 film Ms. Argento directed, starred in and helped write. It depicts the relationship between a prostitute played by Ms. Argento and her son, played by Mr. Bennett and two other actors. Ms. Argento’s character dresses her son as a girl to lure men, and the boy is eventually raped.

In interviews and subsequent social media posts between the two over the years, Ms. Argento and Mr. Bennett referred to each other as mother and son.

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