Jan 3, 2023
Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis has been arrested and detained in Italy on counts of sexual assault and aggravated personal injury allegedly inflicted upon a still unidentified woman who has pressed charges, according to a report from Variety.
The 69-year-old Canadian-born director and screenwriter, who won two Oscars for the 2004 crime drama “Crash” and one for the 2005 film “Million Dollar Baby,” was in Italy to host multiple master classes at a film festival scheduled to begin this week in Ostuni, a tourist town in the southern Italian region of Puglia.
Public prosecutors in the nearby town of Brindisi released a statement Sunday declaring that they had issued a warrant for the detention of a “70-year-old” Canadian man identified only as “P.H.,” who was staying in Ostuni, according to a CNN report.
“The man is seriously suspected of the crimes of aggravated sexual violence and aggravated personal injury, crimes committed to the detriment of a young foreign woman,” prosecutors said.
Priya Chaudhry, a US-based attorney representing Haggis, told CNN via email that she was “confident that all allegations will be dismissed against Mr. Haggis.” Chaudhry further indicated to CNN that Italian law prevents her from discussing the evidence.
“He is totally innocent, and willing to fully cooperate with the authorities so the truth comes out quickly,” she added.
In a press statement issued Monday, Haggis’ lawyer in Italy, Michele Laforgia, said:
“Paul Haggis is currently in Ostuni, at his home, under ‘detention’ by order of the Public Prosecutor of Brindisi. We are waiting to be summoned by the Judge for Preliminary Investigations for the custody interrogation and to render our version of the facts.”
“Haggis immediately declared that he was completely innocent and that he hopes for the maximum speed of all the necessary investigations to clarify the matter. Obviously we cannot declare anything further nor give details of the accusations until we learn fully the acts of the legal case behind the cautionary measure and we have been heard by the judicial authorities,” Laforgia added.
According to the report from The Daily Beast, Italian police in Brindisi confirmed that the woman accusing Haggis of sexual assault has injuries “consistent with her allegations.”
“I was raped for days,” the woman told investigating prosecutor Antonio Negro, according to a summary of the arrest document obtained by The Daily Beast. “We were supposed to work together, but instead he raped me from Sunday evening to Wednesday.”
According to the Daily Beast, the prosecutor’s office confirmed the following:
“She was destroyed,” the attendant told police, according to the initial investigative document. “She spoke with difficulty.”
The woman reportedly underwent an initial medical examination at the airport’s health clinic. She was subsequently taken to a local hospital for treatment per Italy’s “pink protocol” for rape victims.
According to The Daily Beast, Italy’s pink protocol includes psychological counseling. After receiving medical treatment and psychological counseling, the woman proceeded to file sexual assault charges against Haggis.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the woman “suffered repeated non-consenting sexual assaults” including one so violent she was “forced to seek medical attention.”
The medical examiner’s report indicates that the victim was left incapable of having sex from the violence endured, according to the Daily Beast report.
The investigation into Haggis by police reportedly included surveying camera footage outside the director’s hotel room and the airport. The footage obtained reportedly proves that the woman was with Haggis.
The Daily Beast reported that Italian police waited until the woman had left Italy before arresting Haggis in Ostuni. He was held in custody in the provincial capital city of Brindisi overnight, but has since been released and is currently under house arrest at a hotel in Ostuni awaiting the equivalent of an arraignment this week, according to The Daily Beast.
In 2017, a civil lawsuit was filed against Haggis by a woman, identified as Haleigh Breest by the Hollywood Reporter, who accused the director of rape. Haggis denied the rape allegation and filed an extortion lawsuit against Breest, alleging that she and her lawyer had demanded a $9 million payment to avoid legal action.
Following the 2017 civil lawsuit by Breest, three additional women came forward with sexual misconduct allegations against Haggis. One, a former publicist for the writer/director, said he forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her.
The three additional accusers provided details of the alleged sexual assaults through interviews with the Associated Press. Between 1996 and 2015, when the women were beginning their careers in the entertainment industry, they alleged the director “… lured them to private or semi-private places under the guise of discussing productions or a subject of a professional nature,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.
All of the women said Haggis first tried to kiss them. In two of the cases, women said that when they fought back, Haggis escalated his aggression.
“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?'” one woman said, according to the Hollywood Reporter. “And then he really forced himself on me. I was just numb. I didn’t know what to do.”
A Variety report notes that under Italian law, after hearing arguments from both prosecutors and defense lawyers during the first preliminary hearing, the judge can either:
“The next step is a special evidence pre-trial hearing, likely next week, that is expected to involve a cross examination between Haggis and the alleged victim, who is believed to still be in Italy, and their respective lawyers. The judge will then decide whether the case will go to trial,” Variety reported.
In California, the statute of limitations on sex crimes allows adult sexual assault survivors to file civil claims up to 10 years after an incident occurs. Moreover, the California statute of limitations for adult sex crimes allows for a separate three-year window in civil claims where sexual assaults lead to the discovery of a psychological injury, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The sex crime statute of limitations for childhood claims is currently tolled (paused) under California AB 218, allowing any survivor of child sexual abuse the opportunity to file a civil lawsuit through December 31, 2022.
Many states are enacting similar revival windows in an effort to allow sexual assault survivors an opportunity at justice. While most, such as California AB 218, extend the filing deadline on childhood sex crimes, states such as New York recently passed legislation allowing a limited window of time for adult survivors of sexual assault to file civil claims.
Survivors of sexual assault may wish to bring civil claims against perpetrators in an effort to recover financial compensation (known as damages in legalese). What types of damages may be recovered in a sexual assault civil claim?
Common Sexual Assault Economic Damages:
Common Sexual Assault Non-Economic Damages:
Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.
At Dordulian Law Group (DLG), we are dedicated to fighting for justice on behalf of sexual assault survivors. Our consultations are always free, confidential, and without any obligation. We are here to answer any questions you may have regarding your legal options, and we’re available 24/7 to review the facts of your case and ensure your rights are protected and the maximum financial damages award you deserve is pursued.
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