ROME (Reuters) - Italian actress Asia Argento, an outspoken advocate in the movement against sexual harassment, denied on Tuesday ever having had sexual relations with Jimmy Bennett, an actor who the New York Times reported had accused her of sexual assault.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Bennett had accused Argento of sexually assaulting him in 2013 when he was 17 and she was 37. Argento agreed to pay him $380,000 (£294,902) after he asked for $3.5 million, the paper said.
“I am deeply shocked and hurt by having read news that is absolutely false. I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett,” Argento said in an emailed statement distributed by her Italian lawyer.
In her first public comments since the article, Argento said she had been linked to Bennett over several years “by friendship only”.
Representatives for Bennett did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the matter.
A spokesperson for The New York Times told Reuters: “We are confident in the accuracy of our reporting, which was based on verified documents and multiple sources.”
Argento said in her statement that Bennett had “unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money” to her following her media exposure in the accusations of sexual misconduct against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
Argento was one of the first women to publicly accuse Weinstein. She told The New Yorker magazine last October that he had raped her during the Cannes festival in 1997 when she was 21. Since that interview, she has become an outspoken advocate in the #MeToo social media movement against sexual harassment.
She said in her statement that she and her then-boyfriend, the culinary television star Anthony Bourdain, had “decided to deal compassionately with Bennett’s demand for help and give it to him”.
“Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life,” she added.
Bourdain killed himself in June.
Argento said she would oppose the “false allegations” against her and would assume “all necessary initiatives for my protection before all competent venues”.
Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Gareth Jones