The director of Superman Returns and three X-Men films including the forthcoming Days of Future PastBryan Singer has been accused of sexually abusing a 17-year-old male in 1999. In a lawsuit filed in civil court in Hawaii on Wednesday, plaintiff Michael F. Egan III alleged that Singer "manipulated his power, wealth, and position in the entertainment industry to sexually abuse and exploit the underage Plaintiff through the use of drugs, alcohol, threats, and inducements."

Egan, now 31, has asked for unspecified damages on four counts of emotional distress, battery, assault, and invasion of privacy by unreasonable intrusion. A lawyer for Singer has denied the accusations, claiming they are "completely without merit."

In documents filed by Egan's lawyer, the plaintiff says he moved to Los Angeles when he was 14 or 15 to pursue an acting career. In 1998 he began attending parties at the home of businessman and internet video pioneer Marc Collins-Rector. Egan alleges that several teenage males were given salaries by Collins-Rector and his associates in exchange for providing sexual encounters to residents and guests at Collins-Rector's home. Court documents describe "sordid" parties featuring sex, drugs and alcohol that were "notorious" in Hollywood. Egan, who identifies as heterosexual, says he was bullied into participating in these parties by Collins-Rector, Singer and others, and that he was told that his Hollywood career would be destroyed if he did not keep guests happy. At one point he says Collins-Rector threatened him at gunpoint and confined him to a gun closet.

The suit further alleges that on multiple occasions Singer forced Egan to perform oral sex on him and anally raped him, both in Collins-Rector's home and at an estate in Hawaii. The documents, available online via the Hollywood Reporter, offer distressing details of several alleged incidents, most notably those said to have occurred in Hawaii, where the suit is filed.

Collins-Rector is not named as a defendant in the suit. In 2007 Collins-Rector pleaded guilty to five charges of transporting minors across state lines in order to engage in illegal sex. He was also successfully sued in civil court for $4.5m, and is now a registered sex offender.

Egan says he suffered severe psychological, mental, and emotional injuries and trauma as a result of abuse at Singer's hands. Egan's lawyer, Jeff Herman, told the Hollywood Reporter, "Hollywood has a problem with the sexual exploitation of children," adding, "This is the first of many cases I will be filing to give these victims a voice and to expose the issue."

Singer's lawyer, Marty Singer, responded to the lawsuit by saying, "We are very confident that Bryan will be vindicated in this absurd and defamatory lawsuit. ... It is obvious that this case was filed in an attempt to get publicity at the time when Bryan's new movie [X-Men: Days of Future Past] is about to open in a few weeks."

It would be irresponsible at this point to speculate on the outcome or the specific merits of the case before the courts. However, in abstract it is worth noting two competing instincts:

First, any allegation of abuse should be treated with utmost care and sensitivity. It is especially important not to rush to dismiss allegations made against wealthy, celebrated, and powerful men simply because they are wealthy, celebrated and powerful men.

Second, minority groups are often held to the standard of the worst among them in a way that isn't typically true for the majority. Any abuses or criminal acts by gay man in the public eye will be regarded by some as representative of all gay men, and that takes a toll. To that end it seems natural to hope that these allegations of assault are not true. If they are true, the law should be pursued to the fullest extent.

As this is a civil case, Singer has not been charged with any crimes. The court will not declare a verdict of guilty or not guilty, but will instead find in favor of either the plaintiff or the defendant. An out-of-court settlement would void the need for a ruling.