Less than a year ago, the world got to know Italian actress Asia Argento, daughter of famed director Dario Argento, and, at the time, girlfriend of CNN’s beloved wandering foodie-poet, the late Anthony Bourdain.
While she was well-known in her native Italy, most of America learned who she was when she joined 13 other women who courageously told their stories of sexual harassment and assault, naming Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in a New Yorker story.
Those stories not only broke wide open a decades-long industry secret about sexual predation in Hollywood, they also paved the way for a tectonic shift in American sexual politics that came to be known as #MeToo.
In the months that followed, some truly jaw-dropping stories were finally told. From CBS’s Charlie Rose to Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey to comedian Louis C.K., it felt like with every passing day, more awful allegations hit the airwaves.
But the latest shock is coming from inside the house: Argento has been accused of sexually assaulting a then-underage child star in a California hotel room in 2013.
According to a bombshell New York Times report, a then-17-year-old actor said that she met him in her hotel room, sent his guardian away, plied him with alcohol and had sex with him. Importantly, the age of consent in California is 18.
Those, as of now, are just allegations. What we do know is that $380,000 was paid to the actor as part of a deal to keep him quiet. Argento released a statement Tuesday stating that Bourdain made the payment because the two of them wished to quietly handle the matter. She denied having sex with the young actor.
To say this is stunning is an understatement. Here’s a case of a woman credibly charging a man with violating her and an industry with systemically protecting him, all while she is accused of violating a young actor and using the very same industry devices to protect herself.
Few have known how to process the complicated and disorienting turn of events.
Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist who coined “Me Too” in 2006 to raise awareness of sexual assault, tweeted out her thoughts, saying in part: “Sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn’t change if the perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist or professor of any gender.”
Another vocal movement activist, Rose McGowan, claimed she was “heartbroken,” and faced a swift backlash after tweeting, “None of us know the truth of the situation and I’m sure more will be revealed. Be gentle.” Oof.
And least surprisingly, Weinstein’s lawyer Benjamin Brafman released a self-serving statement that tried to discredit the dozens of allegations against his client: “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.”
Of course, two things can be simultaneously true: that Weinstein assaulted Argento and countless others, and Argento assaulted a child actor.
But if this important reckoning in America is going to survive, it must above all else be consistent.
If we assert victims should generally be believed, then this victim must be believed.
If we assert sexual harassment is about power, then we must accept that Argento abused her position of power.
If we assert the system protects the powerful and re-victimizes the victims, then we must condemn Argento for taking advantage of that system.
This won’t be the first time #MeToo has to confront some uncomfortable truths. It may be disorienting, confusing and even heartbreaking, but this isn’t the time for hesitation or hedging. This is the time for brutal honesty.
S.E. Cupp is the host of “S.E. Cupp Unfiltered” on HLN.
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