Writer and director Paul Haggis is accused by four women of sexual misconduct, with two of those women also alleging that he raped them.
A civil lawsuit was filed on 15th December by Haleigh Breest, a publicist, claiming that Haggis raped her in 2013. Prior to formally filing her lawsuit, Haggis filed his own against Breest asserting that she was threatening him with false claims, says The Hollywood Reporter. Since the lawsuit was filed, three more women have come forward with their own experiences of sexual misconduct involving the director occuring between 1996 and 2015. On Friday, Breest amended her lawsuit to include the claims of the three other women who have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
After each of the women agreed to speak to the Associated Press, a number of similarities in their stories emerged. At the time, they were all in their late twenties or early thirties, relatively new in their careers, and all claim that Haggis forcibly tried to kiss them. In two of the encounters, it is reported that Haggis became aggressive when his advances were rejected.
One of the women, a publicist on a television show at the time, recounted Haggis asking her "Do you really want to continue working?" This came after she pulled away from his attempts to kiss her before he forced himself on her in a back office, she said. Each of the women said that their encounters with Haggis occured in private or semi-private settings. "The power, the anger, the financial resources, you feel like you are not really a match for that," she told the AP as the reason why she ultimately didn't call the police after the incident.
Paul Haggis, the writer-director behind Oscar-winners Crash and Million Dollar Baby, denies all of the allegations. In a statement from his lawyers, the accusations are attributed to the Weinstein effect and Scientology. An excerpt reads, "In a society where one of a person’s fundamental rights is the ability to confront an accuser, that right has now been eviscerated when it comes to anyone being charged in the press with any sort of sexual misconduct." As a vocal defector of religion popular amongst celebrities in Hollywood, Haggis' legal team believe it is somehow involved adding that it has "been attacking him for years with false accusations."
Capitalising on the chaos surrounding the innumerable accusations of sexual assault and misconduct pouring into the public discourse is a recurring reason for the claims in the minds of Haggis' legal team. When coming forward with his own lawsuit against Breest, Haggis' legal team released a statement, shared by The Hollywood Reporter. "On the darker side, this maelstrom of media attention, coupled with the immediate guilty verdict from the court of public opinion and the utter and complete damnation of anyone accused of any sexual misconduct, has created an opportunity for persons whose motives and intentions are not so pure, and who are looking for a ride on this cultural wave to take advantage of persons at the centre of this narrative," writes Haggis' attorney Christine Lepera. "That is this case." Introducing doubt into the verity of victims' stories as a form of defence is becoming all the more common as claims continue to be made publicly.
Shortly after the news broke of Harvey Weinstein's sexual misconduct, Haggis was interviewed by The Guardian where he condemned the ousted producer's behaviour before shifting the focus to those who may have helped Weinstein. "Although everyone thinks it is vile behaviour, you have got to focus on those who may have colluded and protected him," said Haggis. "For me, they are as guilty as he is and in some cases more so, if I can say that. I mean, he was a predator and a predator is a predator. But what about those who would rather look the other way?"
Breest's legal team has responded publicly to Haggis' counter-claim calling it a further act of aggression. The statement continues, "In an act of remarkable hubris, Mr. Haggis has the temerity to claim that he, not her, was the victim. It is a preposterous and transparent PR stunt that will not succeed. Ms. Breest will not be intimidated or deterred from seeking justice."
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