Asia Argento, Tinder Date Rape, and What Makes a “Good” Sexual Assault Victim

Gender

Asia Argento, Tinder Date Rape, and What Makes a “Good” Sexual Assault Victim

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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ast October, Italian actress Asia Argento became one of the first of what would be nearly a hundred women who spoke out against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein’s widespread sexual harassment. In Ronan Farrow’s explosive New Yorker exposé, Argento was among the 13 women quoted, and her story made her one of the most prominent faces of the #MeToo movement. She claimed that Weinstein raped her at Cannes in 1997, and at the festival this year, made a speech referring to the star-studded event as a “hunting ground” – a nod to the Weinstein Company’s 2015 campus sexual assault documentary of the same name.

It’s a testament to how far #MeToo has come. In less than a year since Farrow’s report, the hashtag has experienced a groundswell, and turned into a juggernaut that has taken down several powerful men in Hollywood and elsewhere. We’ve seen stories of sexual harassment emerge about everyone from the lovable Aziz Ansari, to the Designated Voice of God, Morgan Freeman. Kevin Spacey has lost his place on House of Cards (his latest film seems to have garnered only $425), while Weinstein has been reduced to a fairytale monster, roaming the dusty deserts of Arizona, masturbating at vaguely women-shaped cacti.

Just when we thought we’d seen it all, Asia Argento has again managed to switch the script. Two days ago, reports emerged that she paid off a well-known child actor, Jimmy Bennett, in 2013, after sexually assaulting him, settling a lawsuit between them for $380,000.

The accounts of what happened bear a striking similarity to allegations against Weinstein. According to court documents, Argento met with Bennett, then 17, in a California hotel room, a state where the age of consent is 18. She gave him alcohol and, like she claims Weinstein did to her, performed oral sex. She had intercourse with him, even sharing pictures of them in bed afterwards – suggesting that Argento either didn’t know she’d committed a crime, or that she simply didn’t care.

In retrospect, Asia fits what we’ve come to recognise as a profile for sexual predators. She is from a famous Italian film family, achieving accolades for her acting as a child star. In the 2004 film, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, which she co-wrote and directed, she starred as a drug-addicted sex worker who dresses her young son (played by Bennett) as a girl to get more clients. After the child is raped by one of her boyfriends, he seduces another.

So who exactly is the “perfect” victim? Is it someone who weeps and cries at the mere mention of assault?

Regardless of the film’s shock value, Argento’s sexualisation of a child in her film throws up a red flag. Is her dark, sexualised aesthetic a little too real, allowing her to hide in plain sight like another Louis CK? Was her success and talent used as an excuse for her behaviour, as has been the case with Woody Allen?

It’s difficult to club Argento with the other #MeToo predators, when she was also a #MeToo voice. The movement has already begun changing perceptions of who an abuser can be. But as a Buzzfeed editorial shows, we still have rigid ideas of how a victim ought to behave.

“An Alleged Tinder Rape Told On Instagram Stories And The Limits Of #MeToo”, describes a Bangalore-based Instagram vlogger’s story of her Tinder date rape from three years ago. The vlogger claimed that the man took nude photos of her, and because she didn’t want to anger him for fear that he would release them, she turned him down politely after the incident and never filed a case.

The accused, in turn, said her reaction was proof that it wasn’t rape, but simply bad sex. It’s a defence we’ve heard before, particularly with the allegations against Ansari, and the story notes that bad sex for women often involves going along with things they don’t want in order to avoid further risk – to their lives, for instance.

So who exactly is the “perfect” victim? Is it someone who weeps and cries at the mere mention of assault? Someone who, despite the physical and mental trauma, immediately reports the incident to authorities to preserve evidence – and by extension, does not wait until three years after to talk about it? Someone who goes to the police instead of Instagram stories to talk about his/her assault? Someone who must necessarily appear ashamed of the assault, even if she is vocal about assigning the blame to the perpetrator? Someone whose entire life must be defined by the assault?  

Nope, Asia Argento does not fit our profile of what an ideal sexual assault victim should look like. With these narrow, limiting definitions, we overlook the fact that it is possible for the same person to be a victim, as well as a perpetrator of sexual assault. As people, we are capable of being both vulnerable, as well as exploiting that vulnerability – and the existence of one does not negate the other. If #MeToo has shown us anything, it’s that people are more complicated than the black-and-white labels of “good” or “bad”, “harami” or “bechari” – and that there are far too many victims out there to judge as a monolith.

Many have questioned not only Argento’s accusations against Weinstein, but the entire #MeToo movement. Others believe her, but think that as a victim herself, Argento’s crimes are that much worse. How then do we think of the accused Tinder date, who held up his own experience of being sexually harassed as evidence that he has since reformed?

As the conversation continues, the only certainty we have is not about the validity of #MeToo after the accusations against Argento, or the justifications that so often surround behaviour of victims and perpetrators. As the movement’s founder, Tarana Burke, reiterated, whether it’s been committed by Asia Argento or against her, the singular philosophy of #MeToo remains intact: Sexual assault, no matter the circumstances, should be wholly unacceptable.

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