Paul Haggis Trial: Psychologist Who Testified In Kevin Spacey Case Says Accuser Suffers From PTSD; Plaintiff Rests Case

A psychologist who testified for Anthony Rapp in his failed case against fellow actor Kevin Spacey took the stand Friday, again for the plaintiff, in the New York sexual assault civil trial of filmmaker Paul Haggis.

As she did in the Rapp case earlier this month, Lisa Rocchio, a clinical and forensic psychologist based in Rhode Island, said that the accuser — in this case Haleigh Breest — suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by an alleged rape that is the basis of a claim for damages being weighed by the jury.

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And again, Rocchio was challenged by the defense for her conclusions, sometimes in language nearly identical to the questions she faced from a lawyer for Spacey.

“Have you ever evaluated someone who claimed sexual abuse and found that they were lying?” a lawyer for Haggis, Seth Zuckerman, asked Rocchio, referring to the 1,000-plus people she has treated in her career. Rocchio said she had not. Before she testified, Zuckerman tried unsuccessfully to get the judge, Sabrina Kraus, to disqualify Rocchio as an expert and prevent her testimony before he set out to try to discredit her with the jury.

In a discussion of “malingering,” or the faking of psychological symptoms for personal gain — a concept that Spacey jurors heard about often — Zuckerman said that according to the most respected text in the mental health field, the DSM, a person “referred by an attorney to the clinician for examination” is the most likely to be a malingerer.

Breest sued Haggis in 2017 in New York civil court alleging he raped her in his Soho apartment in 2013 after a movie-screening party she was working as a freelance publicist where the Oscar-winner Haggis was a guest. Haggis says the sex was consensual. His trial began one day before jurors sided with Spacey in a federal courthouse just around the corner, taking less than 90 minutes to reject Rapp’s claim that as a boy he had been raped and traumatized by Spacey at the older actor’s apartment in New York in 1986.

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Drawing on the same psychological screening tests she administered to Rapp, Rocchio told this jury that Breest has a moderate case of PTSD caused by the rape and will need intensive therapy to overcome it. She also spoke at length, over objections from Haggis’ lawyers, about “rape myths” that have misinformed how many people — including rape victims themselves — think a rape victim does or should behave.

Breest, in her testimony, was cross-examined about her incomplete recall of the alleged rape, the sometimes joking tone of texts about it, her efforts to remain in touch with Haggis afterwards, and her decision not to go to the police. Rocchio said most rape victims don’t report what happened to them as crimes, and that rape is by far the most underreported of crimes. Especially when the rapist is someone the victim already knows, she said, “you’re far less likely to initially label your experience as a rape or a sexual assault.”

Rocchio, questioned by a lawyer for Breest, Zoe Salzman, said she found Breest experienced “extreme psychological distress” in the immediate aftermath of the rape,” as well as “shame, humiliation and embarrassment,” and initially blamed herself for what happened, although she no longer does.

In “Ms. Breest’s perceptions of what happened and its effect on her,” Rocchio said, “there was remarkable consistency in the data I reviewed.”

Salzman showed jurors an excerpt of a report on Breest generated by a computer based on her personality test scores. It said that “the respondent has likely experienced a disturbing traumatic event in the past – an event that continues to distress her and produce recurrent episodes of anxiety.”

On cross-examination, Zuckerman posted another excerpt from the same report that said “respondent may not have answered in a completely forthright manner; the nature of her responses might lead the evaluator to form a somewhat inaccurate impression of the client.”

Zuckerman even raised Rapp v. Spacey. “And the jury rejected your testimony in that case, is that right?” he said. “No,” Rocchio said, arguing that the jury ruled Rapp had failed to prove what happened to him met the legal definition of rape.

Rocchio is Breest’s last witness, with the defense resting its case just after lunch.

The trial’s eighth day opened with Haggis dropping a piece of his initial defense. On Friday, Kraus told jurors that both parties in the case have agreed there is no evidence Breest is a Scientologist. But Haggis’ first witness on Friday is a former official in the church of Scientology, which Haggis belonged to and later criticized as a “cult.”

In another echo of the Spacey trial, Zuckerman said that Breest had watched Going Clear and didn’t report finding the experience traumatic. Spacey’s lawyers had emphasized how often Rapp went out of his way to watch Spacey’s movies despite claiming that the sight of Spacey was triggering.

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