This file photo shows James Toback attending the premiere of the movie ‘The Private Life of a modern Woman’ presented out of competition at the 74th Venice Film Festival at Venice Lido. — AFP

The Hollywood sexual abuse scandal widened Monday after 38 women were said to have accused US film director James Toback of unwanted sexual encounters over a period of decades. Toback reeled them in with boasts about his movie career and connections, as well as claims he could make them a star, according to their accounts to the Los Angeles Times. Following the publication of its story, the paper was inundated with emails and phone calls from more than 200 additional women, it said, though the majority of the new accounts have not yet been verified.

They did, however, follow the pattern uncovered in its investigation: in meetings framed as interviews or auditions, Toback allegedly would turn disturbingly personal, with questions veering to masturbation and pubic hair. "He told me he'd love nothing more than to masturbate while looking into my eyes," Louise Post, who met Toback in 1987 while attending Barnard College, told the Times. "Going to his apartment has been the source of shame for the past 30 years, that I allowed myself to be so gullible," said Post, who is now a guitarist and singer for Veruca Salt, an indie rock band.

Toback denied the allegations, telling the Times he had never met the women, or if he did, it "was for five minutes and (I) have no recollection." His representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Toback, now 72, has been a writer and film director since 1974. His most recent movie, "The Private Life of a Modern Woman," starring Sienna Miller, premiered this year at the Venice Film Festival. In 1987, he made the semi-autobiographical "The Pick-up Artist", and other credits include the Oscar-nominated screenplay for "Bugsy," directed by Barry Levinson and starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.

Intimidating power

The Times said it interviewed all 38 women who came forth separately -- 31 of them on the record-as well as people they had spoken with about the incidents at the time. None had reported the encounters to the police at the time. But a spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney's office told The Times that women were being encouraged to call their hotline in relation to Toback who lives in New York.

A cascade of accounts by women of sexual abuse has flooded social media under the hashtag #MeToo since a similar scandal surrounding movie mogul Harvey Weinstein erupted earlier this month. A Who's Who of actresses and models have come forward to accuse Weinstein of rape, sexual assault and harassment, and of using his intimidating power in Hollywood to keep his behavior hushed up. Weinstein, who is reported to have checked himself into a rehab program in Arizona for sexual addiction, insists all his sexual encounters have been consensual.

Criminal investigations in his case are under way in London, Los Angeles and New York. The scandal has prompted fresh calls for justice from 46-year-old former child star Corey Feldman, who took to social media on Thursday last week to share his own experience of abuse. "4 THE RECORD: I WILL NOT B GOING ON A TALK SHOW 2 DISCLOSE NAMES OF MY ABUSER OR ANY1 ELSES ABUSERS. SO PLEASE STOP ASKING ME 2 DO SO," he said, launching into a seven-message Twitter tirade.

Hollywood pedophile ring

He went on to say he had been "mocked & shamed" and had his career destroyed for campaigning against what he describes as a Hollywood pedophile ring that abused him as a child. Feldman says he and fellow child star Corey Haim, who died in 2010, were abused by studio executives as they were making a name for themselves, including "some of the most richest, most powerful people in this business."

Filmmaker Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby", "Crash") told the London-based Guardian newspaper he didn't believe sexual harassment and abuse were endemic, but added that Feldman's accusations merited serious investigation. "Were people covering for pedophiles, too? We have to think that may have happened as well, because no one speaks out about being abused just to benefit their career," he said.

Meanwhile, Hollywood's Agency for the Performing Arts placed talent manager Tyler Grasham on leave, according to the Hollywood Reporter, after he was accused of sexually assaulting and harassing several young, male clients. And Reese Witherspoon weighed into the scandal last week in a speech to an Elle Women in Hollywood event in Beverly Hills, during which she revealed she was attacked by a director when she was 16 -- the first of "multiple experiences of harassment and sexual assault."

Two new women have also emerged to accuse Oscar-winning French-Polish director Roman Polanski of sexually assaulting them in the early 1970s, when they were 10 and 15. Polanski's lawyer Herve Temime said his client was innocent of all "baseless accusations" of sexual misconduct apart from the statutory rape of Samantha Geimer, for which he has been on the run from US authorities for four decades. Polanski, 84, fled the United States in 1978 before he could be sentenced after pleading guilty to having unlawful sex with Geimer.--AFP