Sexual assault allegations made years after the fact are tough things to offer a public opinion on. They obviously shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, as the difficulty of proving sexual assault in general is what can lead an attacker not to worry too much about the consequences of his actions. But at the same time the longer an alleged victim waits, the more his or her story and motives can be called into question. This is in no way meant to imply that a victim of abuse who doesn't immediately come forward deserves to be looked upon with suspicion -- it's just an unfortunate matter of fact.
The celebrity press is going crazy right now over a lawsuit just filed in Hawaii against director Bryan Singer, who, in a detailed and graphic description, is said to have raped and drugged a teenage boy as part of a Hollywood sex ring that connected minors with powerful men. The incidents in question supposedly happened in 1999, when the plaintiff, Michael Egan, was 17-years-old. Egan claims that he met Singer through the founder of Digital Entertainment Network -- a guy named Marc Collins-Rector, who pleaded guilty in 2004 to sex crimes involving minors -- and that at a couple of parties at a mansion in Kailua the director got him drunk, forced cocaine into his face, and raped him. According to the suit, Singer told Egan at one point, "this group" -- presumably the gay, underage sex ring -- controls Hollywood. (Look for Scientology to file a separate suit against Singer for defamation and Bret Easton Ellis to turn all of this into his next book or terrible movie.) Egan is now seeking unspecified damages.
This isn't the first time Singer has faced these kinds of accusations. Right around the same period as the incident Egan describes, he's alleged to have had inappropriate contact with a group of teen extras during the shooting of Apt Pupil. Beyond any official suits or public accusations, rumors about Singer's behavior have been a not-very-secret secret around Hollywood for years. But rumors, needless to say, don't equal fact, and Singer should be afforded the benefit of the doubt that anyone accused in a court of law is in this country.
What does stand out, and there's simply no way around this, is the timing. Egan's lawyer is Jeff Herman, who specializes in sex abuse cases. Herman understands that part of the process when you're going after a celebrity is to immediately grab the media narrative, which is why he scheduled the announcement of this suit for maximum impact and publicity. X-Men: Days of Future Past hits theaters next month and suddenly dropping a sex scandal in the lap of its director was guaranteed to make a splash. This thing would've been big news anyway, but with the arrival of a highly-anticipated summer blockbuster from Singer, there's another layer to the coverage because hungry press outlets get to now ask whether the accusations will affect the take of the impending release. Should this kind of media manipulation diminish the accusation at the center of it? Does it make it seem more like the shaking down of a famous director than a legitimate attempt to get justice 15 years after the fact? Or is it simply a necessary tactic in the age of media proliferation? Honestly, those are questions each person will have to answer for him- or herself.
And as with all cases involving sexual abuse, particularly the sexual abuse of a minor, those of us commenting on it will have to choose our words carefully until the truth comes out. If it ever does.
Adding: A couple of interesting sidebars to this, now that the press has of course begun digging into the details of Bryan Singer's life and reexamining incidents from his past. On the one hand, there's the "open secret" that Singer has been into "barely legal" boys for years and has organized somewhat legendary pool parties around them along with director Roland Emmerich. (Which could mean exactly nothing. One of the more worrisome possibilities in all of this is that it will once again confirm the preconception of bigots that all gay men are promiscuous deviants and outright pedophiles.) But there's also this, from an old L.A. Weekly: a detailed piece that tears apart the accusations made against Singer in the Apt Pupil case and calls them nothing more than an elaborate shakedown. Given Singer's reputation and the public information about the last case against him, it's not unfathomable that Egan's allegation might be nothing more than a copycat story.