Publicist Haleigh Breest recalls feeling “absolutely paralysed and terrified” when the Oscar-winning filmmaker Paul Haggis allegedly raped her at his Manhattan apartment in January 2013.
Haggis’ civil rape trial continued on Thursday in a Lower Manhattan courtroom as Breest testified that the director raped her after she reluctantly went to his Soho apartment following a movie premiere.
Breest was working the event, which Haggis attended as a guest. Despite saying she wasn’t interested in him, Haggis kissed her against her will and took Breest into a bedroom where he forced her to perform oral sex and then raped her, Breest recounted to jurors during her six-hour testimony.
“I’m saying ‘No.’ I’m saying, ‘Stop.’ I’m saying it over and over,” Breest recalled of that night, reports ‘Variety’.
“He looked like the devil. He seemed to like that I was saying no; that I was scared.”
Breest described feeling “absolutely paralyzed and terrified” when Haggis removed his clothes and told her to “put my d**k in your mouth.”
“I didn’t think there was a way to escape,” Breest told the jurors. After the alleged assault took place, Breest says she “pretended to fall asleep so it would stop” and then actually fell asleep before waking up the next morning in Haggis’ guest bedroom.
“I was like a trapped animal,” she said.
“There was nothing for me to do.”
Breest testified that she and Haggis had previously interacted at film premieres and also briefly corresponded via email prior to that night, which the defendant interpreted as flirting.
“There was never any romantic conversation,” Breest, who was 26 when the alleged assault took place, told the jurors. “He’s older than my dad.”
Prior to January 2013, Breest said she admired Haggis, an accomplished writer and director whose credits include “Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby” and “Casino Royale”.
“He seemed friendly at events,” she said. “He treated everyone with respect.”
Breest testified, “I didn’t understand how someone I knew could be a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.”
Haggis, 69, does not deny the two had sex, but he maintains the encounter was consensual. His legal team is arguing the rape charge came in retaliation for Haggis’ decision to leave and then publicly criticise the Church of Scientology. Haggis, a long-time member, had parted with Scientology in 2009 over its opposition to gay marriage. He has long alleged that leaders of the controversial religion were trying to “find dirt” on him before the rape allegation was levelled.
“Scientology is very successful at destroying its enemies without leaving a single fingerprint behind,” defence attorney Priya Chaudhry told the jurors in opening remarks the day prior. She alleges her client was targeted by the Church because he “did not leave quietly.”
Breest’s attorney on Wednesday refuted that the plaintiff has a connection to the Church. “Haleigh Breest has nothing to do with Scientology. Scientology has nothing to do with this case.”
A portion of Breest’s testimony focused on text messages and phone conversations with friends in the days and weeks following the alleged assault.
Breest’s attorney brought up one text message that reads, “I gave so much head I feel like sick right now.”
Breest elaborated on Thursday, saying she “felt physically sick from being assaulted.” Her friend later responded “He took advantage of you,” to which Breest replied, “And I kept saying ‘No.’
“Powerful men don’t understand the word ‘No.’ They don’t accept the word ‘no’,” Breest told the jurors.
Breest and Haggis sporadically corresponded over email in the months following the incident because she felt pressure to “make sure things were going to be as normal as possible at work.”
Breest repeatedly testified that following the alleged assault, she was “very upset to be victimized.”
“I was having a hard time accepting it,” she told jurors. “I didn’t want to be a rape victim.”
Breest did not file a lawsuit until December 2017 after Haggis condemned Harvey Weinstein in the press after the producer was accused of sexual assault in 2017.
The “hypocrisy made her blood boil,” Breest’s attorney Zoe Salzman told the jury on Wednesday.
Breest elaborated, “I want Paul Haggis to be held accountable that what he did to me was wrong.”
After her lawsuit was filed, Breest alleges she wasn’t hired again by The Cinema Society, where she worked as a freelance film publicist for years. The Cinema Society hosted the event in January 2013, and Breest said her boss at The Cinema Society, Andrew Saffir, is friends with Haggis.
Thursday’s lengthy testimony ended with Breest’s attorney referencing an email that Breest sent to Saffir on March 21, 2018, in which she wrote, “I don’t want to be punished or lose work because I stood up for myself.”