The New York Times, much to its credit, broke the story of Asia Argento’s payoff of Jimmy Bennett. They name the “victim,” something they don’t do except when they do. They speak of his financial woes, suggesting he was in it more for the money than the mental anguish and suffering of a person sexually abused. Blaming the victim isn’t usually part of the narrative either. But still, they told the story, which meant that an icon of #MeToo was knocked off her pedestal.
The Italian actress and director Asia Argento was among the first women in the movie business to publicly accuse the producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault. She became a leading figure in the #MeToo movement. Her boyfriend, the culinary television star Anthony Bourdain, eagerly joined the fight.
But in the months that followed her revelations about Mr. Weinstein last October, Ms. Argento quietly arranged to pay $380,000 to her own accuser: Jimmy Bennett, a young actor and rock musician who said she had sexually assaulted him in a California hotel room years earlier, when he was only two months past his 17th birthday. She was 37. The age of consent in California is 18.
The underlying “offense” doesn’t at first appear to be particularly tear-evoking. California’s age of consent is 18, making sex between an older Asia Argento and a 17-year-old Jimmy Bennett a matter of technical rape, rape only because the law says so. And he liked it. And teenage boys want sex. Yes, it’s the “he asked for it” defense, which would be unacceptable if used against a woman but somehow fine when one doesn’t get all prissy about a male.
Except Argento was a surrogate mother to the boy since he was ten, until she ended up pulling his pants off at 17. That sucks.
Had she not climbed atop the Harvey Weinstein victim pedestal, Bennett might not have gone after her. There’s something about holding oneself out as a beacon of purity and victimhood that makes people want to knock you down. Particularly the people you rape. Glass houses have glass bedrooms. If you don’t want anyone to see what you’re doing in there, don’t scream to the world, “look at me!”
But what was Argento to do about it? The evidence proving Bennett’s claims was strong, perhaps overwhelming, and she was completely exposed as a leading voice of #MeToo. So she got a lawyer. A “fixer,” for those who lack a clear grasp of the role lawyers play in disputes. The lawyer negotiated a pay off of $380,000 over time, for which Argento would get the picture of her and Bennett lying naked in bed and a non-disparagement agreement.
In an April letter addressed to Ms. Argento confirming the final details of the deal and setting out a schedule of payments, Ms. Goldberg characterized the money as “helping Mr. Bennett.”
“We hope nothing like this ever happens to you again,” Ms. Goldberg wrote. “You are a powerful and inspiring creator and it is a miserable condition of life that you live among shitty individuals who’ve preyed on both your strengths and your weaknesses.”
If the name, Ms. Goldberg, sounds familiar, it’s because that’s Carrie Goldberg, who in 2014 reinvented her practice to be the lawyer for female revenge porn “survivors.” Apparently, “shitty individuals” is an exceptionally malleable concept, as is a payoff for silence as opposed to “helping Mr. Bennett.” Carrie represented Argento, so her tummy-rubbing the rapist as if she was the victim is understandable. That’s where her money is coming from.
Whether anything “like this” happens to Argento again is more a matter of how many other young men she raped than anything else, but hope springs eternal, and it cost Carrie nothing to write soothing words to her client.
I’ve been critical of Carrie’s shtick in the past, both because of her excess of hyperbolic and disingenuous rhetoric and her dearth of success in helping her “victims,” while enjoying a bit of undeserved notoriety. It wasn’t personal. Carrie seems like a nice enough person, and I can’t blame her for building a brand that will earn her a living on the backs of female revenge porn victims.
But here she represents the rapist. Here she “fixes” the rapist’s problem by doing a Michael Cohen deal to conceal her client’s dirty deed. Even if one doesn’t care all that much about what she did to Jimmy Bennett, Argento cared enough to pay him off. It’s no different when you swap genitalia between the silence buyer and seller. And the lawyer for the sad “survivors” can use as many adjectives as she likes, but her client is still the rapist. A woman, but still the rapist.
Ms. Argento, who lives in Rome, subsequently turned to Ms. Goldberg — a prominent lawyer for victims of online attacks — to handle the case.
Welcome to the real world of lawyers, Carrie. Whether the deal cut here was a good one, who knows? Silence is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. It’s not your fault that some rat decided to anonymously send the New York Times the secret agreement, the secret photo, the very reason for your client’s payoff. Rats happen, and I have no use for them, but they’re outside the lawyer’s control. Carrie’s not to blame for this massive failure of concealment.
But here you are anyway, representing the rapist against the “survivor.” You can wrap it up in whatever pretty bows make you feel less dirty about what you’re doing, but you know, just as I know, that all the cries of sad tears for victims is now revealed as a complete crock of shit. It was all talk, the pretense of being on the victim side of the narrative until the client who called, who sought your representation, ended up being the rapist instead of the victim. And you took the case and tried to fix the problem. You’re a fixer, Carrie. No adjective can hide what you did here. You fixed. Or at least you tried.
Don’t feel bad. This is what lawyers do, represent clients. Sometimes they’re the good guys. Sometimes they’re not. But let’s cut the crap and stop pretending women are always the victims and our representation is all about serving some cause of truth and justice. We represent clients, whether they’re the survivor or the predator. That’s what lawyers do. Now, Carrie, you’re a lawyer like the rest of us. Welcome.