I'm a Paul Haggis Sex Assault Accuser, and I'm Anonymous. Here's Why (Guest Column)
One of three women detailing sexual misconduct claims against the 'Crash' screenwriter explains the timing of speaking out, why Leah Remini is "shameful" and what it means that she isn't using her name.
In the late 2000s, I was sexually assaulted by Paul Haggis at work. "I need to be inside you," he said as he came at me. I felt my life could have been over, as this man who was my father's age forcibly grabbed me and tried to kiss me against my will. Fortunately, I escaped.
I told friends and family about the attack. But I never planned to tell my story publicly. A few weeks ago, I changed my mind. I told the Associated Press my story of workplace assault at the hands of Haggis — and I did so anonymously.
Since publication of that Jan. 5 piece, Haggis, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, has shamelessly used his powerful voice to attempt to discredit me and his other accusers, insinuating we are liars and cowards because we seek anonymity. This is a strategy that predators use to silence their victims.
I'd like to explain why I decided to share my story and why I chose anonymity.
Why I Came Forward
Even after the #MeToo movement inspired others to speak out, I chose silence. When Haggis issued a hypocritical statement condemning Harvey Weinstein, I fumed, but still I chose silence.
That changed when I read that another woman had accused him of rape and that Haggis had filed a retaliatory lawsuit against her accusing her of defaming him. Outraged, I read the horrifying details of this woman's story. She wasn't as fortunate; she didn't get away. I couldn't let this woman battle this serial predator and bully alone. I decided to speak out.
Why I Chose Anonymity
I solicited advice from every communications expert I know. Each one urged me to hide my identity. They said Haggis could sue me, just like his first rape accuser. They said my job would be affected and asked whether I wanted my name forever linked to his. They warned me that Haggis would use his powerful friends to denounce us, which is precisely what he has done.
I decided using my name would be too much. By speaking anonymously, I could help protect other women and still protect myself.
From my experience, editors will not print workplace sexual assault stories without extensive research and confirmation. I had to collect documentation and answer detailed questions reliving every aspect of my story. I am not anonymous to the reporters who told my story: They know my name, have seen contemporaneous evidence corroborating the circumstances of my experience and have spoken with people to whom I confided details shortly after the assault. But I also know that others assaulted by powerful people are unwilling to go through such a vetting process. Unfortunately, their stories remain untold.
Once you tell your story, you wait. The fear of retaliation was crippling for me. Sharing a dark secret with strangers left me feeling vulnerable and uncertain whether they would betray me when the story went to print. I worried Haggis would turn around and expose me or hurt my family. I had many sleepless nights, filled with fear and anxiety about how my predator might attack me again.
After the Story
When the AP article came out with the stories of several women, I felt some relief knowing I had done the right thing. Reading the familiar and haunting details of the other accounts made me feel like we were no longer alone, but the feelings of vulnerability continued.
Unlike many of the Hollywood power players accused, Haggis has not apologized to any of the women he has hurt. Instead, he's responded by citing his very public charity work as evidence that he couldn't be a rapist or a predator. I find this infuriating. While victims often hide in silence, sexual predators often hide behind the "right" social causes, including women's rights. It was Haggis' philanthropic work that led me to believe that he was one of Hollywood's "good guys."
He has also attempted to discredit his accusers, alleging we are working together to profit from him and are acting on behalf of the Church of Scientology, of which Haggis is a prominent defector. This is offensive and false. I do not know and have not spoken or met with any of his other accusers. I do not stand to make anything. I want nothing from Haggis other than that the truth be known.
I have no connection with Scientology or its practitioners. For those people — including actress Leah Remini — who have stated publicly that all of Haggis' accusers are part of a Scientology conspiracy, shame on you. Isn't now the time to be listening to your sisters? Such baseless statements attempt to silence all of us and the entire #MeToo movement.
Was speaking anonymously the right decision? Haggis' response confirmed that it was. Choosing anonymity does not make my story any less true.
Workplace sexual assault is about the person in the powerful position taking away the rights of the victim and invalidating their experience. Haggis continues to try to do this every chance he has.
Given the challenges with coming forward, it is not surprising that so many victims remain silent. I never wanted to share my experience, and doing so has reminded me why: It has left me feeling exposed, stressed and anxious — my only upside is that I hope my story will contribute in the fight to hold victims up high, giving them a somewhat better option to tell their stories when they're ready.
Editor's note: Haggis has denied the claims against him.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.