James Franco Accusers Say He 'Continues to Downplay' Their Experiences in Response to His Interview

James Franco said in an interview this week that he has "been doing a lot of work" on himself

Two women who accused James Franco of sexual misconduct are criticizing him as insensitive to "the immense pain and suffering he put his victims through" after the actor gave an interview speaking out about the accusations for the first time in nearly four years.

In a January 2018 Los Angeles Times story, five women accused the Oscar nominee of sexually inappropriate behavior. Two of his former students — Sarah Tither-Kaplan and Toni Gaal — filed a sexual misconduct lawsuit against Franco in 2019. As part of a settlement deal reached earlier this year, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal agreed to drop their individual claims, and Franco, 43, agreed to pay $2,235,000.

In a statement obtained by PEOPLE on Thursday, attorneys who represent Tither-Kaplan and Gaal from the law firms Valli Kane & Vagnini LLP and Hadsell, Stormer Renick & Dai LLP slammed Franco's comments after the settlement.

"In addition to being blind about power dynamics, Franco is completely insensitive to, and still apparently does not care about, the immense pain and suffering he put his victims through with this sham of an acting school," read the statement. "It is unbelievable that even after agreeing to a settlement he continues to downplay the survivors' experiences and ignore their pain, despite acknowledging he had no business starting such a school in the first place."

"This wasn't a misunderstanding over a course name, it wasn't the result of him being overworked — it was, and is, despicable conduct," the statement continued. "Nobody should confuse this interview with Franco taking accountability for his actions or expressing remorse over what happened. It is a transparent ducking of the real issues released just before a major holiday in hopes that he wouldn't face any scrutiny over his response."

In his wide-ranging interview with SiriusXM's The Jess Cagle Podcast this week, Franco said he has dealt with sex addiction for years, admitting to sleeping with students at his now-closed acting school. He maintained that it was "consensual" sex but that at the time he was not "clearheaded" and therefore "completely blind to power dynamics" at play.

James Franco
James Franco. Kevin Winter/Getty

Franco opened his acting school Playhouse West Studio 4 in 2014 before it closed in 2017. He taught a "Sex Scenes" 101 class, a course name he now said was a "stupid" choice since it misrepresented the lessons, in his view. He also said he would sometimes "use" his fame as a "lure."

"Over the course of my teaching, I did sleep with students, and that was wrong. But like I said, it's not why I started the school and I wasn't the person that selected the people to be in the class. So it wasn't a 'master plan' on my part," he said. "But yes, there were certain instances where, you know what, I was in a consensual thing with a student and I shouldn't have been."

In 2018, Tither-Kaplan and Gaal claimed Franco and his business partners "engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects," according to court documents previously obtained by PEOPLE. The women also alleged that the circumstances "led to an environment of harassment and sexual exploitation both in and out of the class."

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Franco, who is dating girlfriend Isabel Pakzad, said in the interview this week that he has "been doing a lot of work" on himself and that he has been "examining this and changing who I was."

As part of the settlement, both parties agreed to the following joint statement: "While Defendants continue to deny the allegations in the Complaint, they acknowledge that Plaintiffs have raised important issues; and all parties strongly believe that now is a critical time to focus on addressing the mistreatment of women in Hollywood. All agree on the need to make sure that no one in the entertainment industry — regardless of race, religion, disability, ethnicity, background, gender or sexual orientation — faces discrimination, harassment or prejudice of any kind."

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.

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