Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis accused of rape and sex assault
Haggis has denied the original rape allegation in a counter-complaint to the lawsuit, and said the accuser and her lawyer had demanded a US$9 million payment to avoid legal action
A civil lawsuit charging Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis with raping a publicist has prompted three additional women to come forward with their own sexual misconduct accusations, including another publicist who says he forced her to perform oral sex, then raped her.
One of the other women speaking out said Haggis tried to sexually assault her.
“I need to be inside you,” she recalled him saying, before she managed to run away.
Another of the new accusers said Haggis held down her arms, forcibly kissed her on a street corner, then followed her into a taxi. She said she later escaped his clutches.
When asked about the new accusations, Christine Lepera, lawyer for the 64-year-old screenwriter of Million Dollar Baby and Crash, said: “He didn’t rape anybody.”
Haggis has denied the original rape allegation in a counter-complaint to the lawsuit, and said the accuser and her lawyer had demanded a US$9 million payment to avoid legal action, which he characterised as extortion.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, filed December 15 in Manhattan, is identified in court papers as Haleigh Breest. The other three women subsequently came forward to Breest’s New York lawyers. They spoke on the condition that they not be identified for fear of retribution.
On Friday afternoon, Breest’s lawyers filed an amended complaint to include details of the allegations lodged by the three new accusers.
In separate interviews, the three provided detailed accounts of encounters they say occurred between 1996 and 2015. The women were early in their careers in the entertainment business when, they say, the Hollywood heavyweight lured them to private or semi-private places under the guise of discussing productions or a subject of a professional nature.
They all said Haggis first tried to kiss them. In two of the cases, they said, when they fought back, Haggis escalated his aggression.
The new rape accuser said she was a 28-year-old publicist working on a television show being produced by Haggis in 1996 when he called to ask to review photos from the show that night in her office. She said he insisted they speak in a back office and Haggis began kissing her as soon as they walked into the room. He then made her perform oral sex, pushed her to the ground and raped her, she said.
The woman said she felt inspired to come forward after seeing Haggis’ photo and a news story about Breest’s lawsuit, amid the growing #MeToo movement of women speaking out about sexual misconduct by powerful men in Hollywood, politics, the media and other industries.
Breest accuses Haggis of raping her after he lured her back to his flat in Manhattan following a film premiere in 2013. She said he had accepted a ride home but instead he brought her to his flat in SoHo and invited her inside for a drink.
Quickly, Haggis became “sexually aggressive,” she said in her lawsuit, and began kissing her.
She said Haggis asked her: “You’re scared of me, aren’t you?”
Haggis then forced her into a bedroom and onto a bed and tried to tear off her tights, she said. She called out “no” but he wouldn’t stop, she said.
He forced her to perform oral sex on him, fondled her, asked if she liked anal sex, then raped her, according to the lawsuit.
The third accuser was in her 30s when she went to a 9pm meeting at Haggis’ Los Angeles office in the late 2000s to pitch him a potential television show. She said other employees quickly left, and that when she down on a couch in his office, there was a bottle of wine open on his desk. She said Haggis told her he had an arrangement with his wife to have extramarital relationships.
Panicked, she said, she looked for her car keys and an escape route, as Haggis came around a table and tried to kiss her.
She ran to her car. Haggis followed, but she managed to get in and drive off before calling her sister and several friends, she said. A friend said she remembered being informed about the incident.
The new accuser who said Haggis forcibly kissed her, then followed her into her taxi, said the encounter occurred in 2015 in Canada. She said she was in her late 20s at the time and knew Haggis from film events.
She said that when the taxi arrived at her flat, Haggis threw money at the driver, chased her and kissed her again before she was able to get into her residence and shut the door. She said Haggis sent her harassing text messages, until she blocked him.
After years of working in television, Haggis broke out in the mid-2000s when he became the first screenwriter to write back-to-back best picture winners, Million Dollar Baby and Crash, which he also directed. He also gained attention for his defection from Scientology in 2009, and public criticism of the religion.
The women interviewed denied any connection to Scientology.