The Disturbing Sexual-Assault Allegations Against Oscar-Winner Paul Haggis

The director of ‘Crash’ and writer of ‘Million Dollar Baby’—and former Scientologist—stands accused of sexual-assault or harassment by at least four women.

Slaven Vlasic/Getty

In October, The Guardian published an interview with filmmaker Paul Haggis in which the Oscar-winning screenwriter and director argued for a complete overhaul of the entertainment industry.

In between cries for more “serious” films like his own, Haggis condemned predators like Harvey Weinstein and the complicit players who kept them afloat. Deeming Hollywood “fairly sexist,” he continued, “It is not an innocent place and never has been. Most of this behavior has been aimed at women, but I am sure that former child stars such as Corey Feldman and Corey Haim, who have both made allegations in the past that no one took seriously, are worth considering, too…I find it particularly terrible that people had their dreams held to ransom in that way.”

For Manhattan publicist Haleigh Breest, the 64-year-old filmmaker’s decision to publicly condemn Weinstein was the final straw, pushing her to out Haggis as her own alleged predator. “The truth she knows and has lived is that behind the façade of these comments lies another predator, a man willing to force himself on a young woman less than half his age and take pleasure in the fear and pain he caused her,” Breest’s subsequent lawsuit stated. “Ms. Breest will not look the other way any longer.”

According to Haggis, who filed a December lawsuit accusing Breest of a $9 million extortion plot, her lawyer reached out to him in November with an unfiled complaint alleging “gender violence.” Haggis claims in court papers that Breest’s attorney proceeded to demand “a seven-figure pay day…in order to avoid the threatened lawsuit.”

Just hours after Haggis sued for extortion, Breest filed her own suit, outlining her accusations against the Million Dollar Baby screenwriter and ex-Scientologist.

The 31-year-old accuser’s civil lawsuit, which does not include a monetary figure and requests a “trial by jury,” features vivid and disturbing allegations.

Mr. Haggis forced her to give him oral sex and aggressively inserted his finger into her vagina. He told her he liked anal sex. Then, he raped her.

According to Breest’s suit, the alleged incident occurred on January 31, 2013. After meeting the filmmaker at a movie premiere, Breest claims that he asked her out for a drink: “Breest told him she was willing to go to a public bar, but stated she did not want to go to his apartment.” In her suit, Breest further recalls, “Once inside, Mr. Haggis almost immediately began to make unwanted sexual advances and to forcibly kiss her. She repeatedly told him ‘No’ but he would not stop. Ms. Breest was shocked, confused, and extremely fearful. Apparently sensing she was afraid, Mr. Haggis said in an aggressive and menacing tone, ‘You’re scared of me, aren’t you?’”

The filing continues: “Eventually, Mr. Haggis succeeded in getting Ms. Breest into a bedroom where he began violently to try and remove her tights. She resisted, struggling to push him off, but he continued. After multiple, forcible attempts to remove her tights, he succeeded. Mr. Haggis forced her to give him oral sex and aggressively inserted his finger into her vagina. He told her he liked anal sex. Then, he raped her…When she woke up hours later, feeling sore, scared and humiliated, she saw Haggis sleeping in another bedroom, and left.”

In his suit, which was obtained by The Blast, Haggis refutes this account, claiming that “there was no such violence” and categorizing his relationship with Breest as “friendly, and at times flirtatious.” The suit also highlights Haggis’ alleged poor health, arguing that a recent back surgery would have prevented him from assaulting Breest: “Plaintiff had surgery to correct that medical issue shortly before the night Defendant claimed this ‘violence’ occurred, requiring him to wear a post-surgical back brace continuously at the time...He was under a restriction against severe exertion and was unable to lift anything more than a light grocery bag during his recovery period.”

Furthermore, the suit proposes that the current wave of sexual-assault allegations against powerful men “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.” In turn, Breest’s attorney has called out the filmmaker’s suit as “a further act of aggression designed to deflect attention from his own wrongdoing as set forth in her complaint…We believe it’s a desperate and futile effort, destined to fail. Ms. Breest is telling the truth and will not be intimidated.”

Breest’s testimony, in turn, has ushered in a tidal wave of accusations against the Crash filmmaker.

A new AP report features testimonies from three women who came forward after hearing about the publicist’s case. These women’s stories all take place between 1996 and 2015. In Weinstein-esque fashion, the AP reports, “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.”

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One accuser told the AP that she was 28 years old at the time of the incident, and working on a television show that Haggis was producing. One night, Haggis called her into a room—“Everyone else had left the office”—and immediately started kissing her. “I just pulled away. He was just glaring at me and came at me again. I was really resisting. He said to me, ‘Do you really want to continue working?’” The woman recalled. “And then he really forced himself on me. I was just numb. I didn’t know what to do.” She told the AP that Haggis “made her perform oral sex,” then “pushed her to the floor and raped her.”

A second alleged victim told the AP that she pitched Haggis a TV show in the late 2000s. After telling her that, “He had an arrangement with his wife to have extramarital relationships,” Haggis allegedly moved towards the woman, attempting to kiss her. She told the AP that she remembered thinking, “How am I going to escape alive?” before making a run for it.

A third accuser claims that Haggis “forcibly kissed her” in 2015 before following her into a taxi. “When the taxi arrived at her apartment, 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,” the AP report continues. “She said Haggis waved his hands at her once she was inside and sent her harassing text messages for the next 24 hours, until she blocked him.”

Responding to the latest accusations, Haggis’ attorney Christine Lepera insisted, “He didn’t rape anybody.”

Like so many of the high-ranking Hollywood accused, Haggis has a history of supporting progressive causes. In 2009, he founded Artists For Peace and Justice, a non-profit that has reportedly raised millions for educational projects in Haiti. Aside from 2005’s Crash, the filmmaker may be best known for breaking with the Church of Scientology after over three decades of membership. At the time, Haggis framed his resignation as a response to the church’s stance on same-sex marriage, writing, “Despite all the church’s words about promoting freedom and human rights, its name is now in the public record alongside those who promote bigotry, intolerance, homophobia and fear.” Haggis has continued to publicly critique the church, even appearing in 2015’s documentary Going Clear.

The accusers interviewed by The AP have denied any connection to the Church of Scientology. In his December suit Haggis claimed that, as a prominent ex-Scientologist, “He is used to defending himself from false allegations.”