Jimmy Bennett, the actor who has claimed that he was sexually abused as a teenager by the Italian actress and director Asia Argento and who sought a cash settlement from her, issued his first public statement about the matter on Wednesday. He said he was too “afraid and ashamed” to speak up after the incident happened, and when The New York Times approached him in recent days with questions about the case.
“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 said in a statement provided to The Times. “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 reported Sunday that in November, a month after Ms. Argento emerged as a leading figure in the #MeToo movement with her account of sexual assault at the hands of the movie producer Harvey Weinstein, Mr. Bennett sent her a notice of his intent to sue.
The document, sent to The Times through encrypted email by an unidentified party, described a May 2013 sexual encounter in a hotel room in Marina del Rey, Calif., when Mr. Bennett was 17 and Ms. Argento was 37. The age of consent in California is 18.
The document said Mr. Bennett, once a prolific child actor who starred in a movie with Ms. Argento when he was 7, was traumatized by the encounter, which impaired his ability to work. His lawyer asked for $3.5 million in damages, and attached a selfie of the two actors lying in bed. (The photograph, which The Times saw but did not publish, was obtained by other news organizations, along with texts, said to be from Ms. Argento, that described the incident. The photo and texts circulated Wednesday on social media.)
Ms. Argento released her first statement on the matter Tuesday — six days after The Times began reaching out to her and her representatives for comment on the matter — saying she had not had sex with Mr. Bennett. “I strongly deny and oppose the contents of the New York Times article,” she said.
A spokeswoman for The Times responded: “We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting, which was based on verified documents and multiple sources.”
Ms. Argento’s statement confirmed The Times’s account that she had paid Mr. Bennett money. According to documents sent to the newspaper, she agreed in March to pay him $380,000.
She said much of the money came from her boyfriend Anthony Bourdain, the culinary and travel personality who killed himself in June; he helped Ms. Argento strategize how to handle Mr. Bennett’s claims. The payments began with a $200,000 lump sum in April, the documents said. Ms. Argento has been making $10,000-a-month payments since then.
She said in her statement that the payments were intended to help Mr. Bennett out of his financial troubles.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has reached out to Mr. Bennett in order to document any possible criminal activity. Gordon K. Sattro, the actor’s lawyer, said he had not yet responded to the inquiry.
Mr. Bennett, who lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, remained silent until Wednesday. His statement begins by saying he appreciates the bravery of other women and men who have spoken up about their own experiences with sexual assault and harassment as part of the #MeToo movement.
“I did not initially speak out about my story because I chose to handle it in private with the person who wronged me,” he said. “My trauma resurfaced as she came out as a victim herself.”
Mr. Bennett said he did not report the hotel incident at the time because he believed “there was still a stigma to being in the situation as a male in our society.”
Mr. Bennett is now pursing a career as a rock musician, and has been signed to a record label started by Bella Thorne, a fellow child actor and friend. His musical tour is to begin next month.
“I have had to overcome many adversities in my life, and this is another that I will deal with, in time,” he wrote. “I would like to move past this event in my life and today I choose to move forward, no longer in silence.”
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