It is, perhaps, ironic that right around the same time that Mackenzie Phillips went public about her incest experience, a second entertainment icon was thrust into the limelight for sexual misconduct, as well: Roman Polanski was arrested in connection with a 30-year-old rape charge and the entertainment world went into an uproar. (David Letterman is the third entertainment icon to be thrust into the spotlight for sexual misconduct.)
You can read the trial transcript, better yet here's your Cliff Notes version of the facts in this case: In 1977, 13-year-old Samantha Geimer was hired to model for Polanski, who subsequently took her to Jack Nicholson's house and proceeded to give her champagne and Quaaludes before having oral, vaginal, and anal sex with her. Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, and then fled the country out of fear of extended jail time (it seems the plea was, he hoped, a way to get out of actual imprisonment beyond the 42 days he initially served). Whether or not the sex took place is not in contention here; both the victim and the perpetrator agree that it happened.
No, the matter seemingly up for debate is whether it is 1) lawful and 2) ethical and/or necessary for Polanski to be imprisoned now for a crime committed so long ago. (The answer to 1 is "hell, yes," by the way. I don't understand why there's any argument on 2, but apparently there is.)
Color me naive, but I wasn't aware that there's some sort of statute of limitation on heinous transgressions against a child. The fact that there's an entire contingent of people claiming that "Polanski has suffered enough" has blown my mind. Polanski had a rough life, you see. He's been living in exile! He's suffered enough! Why drag up old memories? Even his victim has gone on record stating that she doesn't think he deserves further jail time. And the more I read about the petition calling for Polanski's release (and the big-name stars signing it), the more I wonder if the entire world has lost its collective mind. (If you really want to get depressed, check out Liza at culturekitchen's running tally of "rape apologists" via the petition.)
Harding kicks it off on the right foot by pointing out the sheer ridiculousness of feeling sorry for a man who RAPED A 13-YEAR OLD, admitted it, and then fled to France to live a fabulous life of Oscar wins and villas and probably lots of European glamour and delicious cheeses. Why on earth would we shed a tear for that ass hat?
And if you don't find yourself cheering along at this clip of Chris Rock on Jay Leno, well, the fine ladies at Jezebel are only too happy to elucidate:
What's so disturbing [...] isn't that people are claiming our legal system is flawed. It's that people - be they in Hollywood or your average citizen - are grasping for all kinds of ways to twist this back on the victim and to exonerate Polanski by denying this crime ever happened. So you want him to walk on a technicality? Fine. Admit that! But why are we denying that the rape ever happened?
It did happen.
Polanski admitted as such. So are people so invested in the idea that if we pretend it isn't "rape-rape" then the matter will be resolved?
As Rock says at the end of the clip: "The United States, we want to capture Osama Bin Laden, and murder him. We don't want to rape him - that would be barbaric!"
And if you haven't heard this "rape-rape" bit, yet, you can direct your thanks to Whoopi Goldberg for that, where her comments on The View seem to indicate that if you say it twice, it becomes something more permissible; again, commentary from Jezebel:
What is worrisome about Whoopi's argument is that she refuses to call a 43 year old man having sex with an unconscious 13 year old girl "rape". She may have personal, possibly guilty-parent reasons for not accepting this, but as tangled up as this case is, the fact that it was rape is one of the least controversial things about it. Roman Polanski admitted to drugging and having sex with a child, and in the country in which he did it, that is rape. (Though nice try Whoopi with the "Europeans have sex with children all the time!" argument, or whatever that was.)
Amelia McDonell-Parry at The Frisky is enraged by the commentary on The View, as well, and darkly concludes:
And shame on Whoopi. Let’s hope her granddaughter never has to weigh the differences between rape, “rape-rape,” or the way Europeans like to do it.
Amber at MamaPop is able to muster some sympathy for Polanski's tortured past, but clarifies that it's not an excuse:
A lot of apologetic rhetoric was bandied about by Goldberg, Behar and Gilbert during this segment. Yes, Roman Polanski had a rough life. A survivor of the Holocaust, Polanski also lost his wife Sharon Tate in the brutal Manson slayings in 1969. Those are horrors I would not see visited upon anyone, even a rapist. But that doesn't make it okay to rape 13-year-old girls. There was some discussion about his films, though at least they agreed (however much of it was lip-service), that making great art doesn't excuse one from heinous crimes.
But let's just be fucking real for a minute. It obviously does, because the French government has been willing to dismiss the crimes of its adopted son Polanski for years, simply because he makes great films. People don't want to believe that famous people are capable of infamous crimes, because we hold them up as something more than us, as something better. Famous people who commit crimes aren't criminals! They're eccentric! tortured artists! I can't believe for a second that someone with different credentials from Polanski's, even with the same traumatic past, would be given us pass like Whoopi seems to want to give Polanski.
Here on BlogHer, member alyssaroyse writes with clarity about the need to separate the man from the act:
I agree with others who have said that who Roman Polanski is as a person shouldn't taint the lens through which we look at his art. However, his art cannot taint how we look at him as a person either. He raped a child, he admitted it, and he fled the country - after paying her off - rather than serving his punishment.
Justice here may be delayed, but it should not be denied.
Liz B at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy offers a bit of perspective on the issue of time served:
Polanski served 42 days. Robert Downey, Jr, spent more time in prison for drug charges -- where no one but Downey was hurt -- than Polanski did for his actions. Polanski has two consequences he has to face in the courtroom: first, the sentence for his guilty plea. Second, his sentence for fleeing the country. It's not just the plea he has to face. Paris Hilton got 23 days for her victimless crimes; shouldn't Polanski serve at least that for fleeing? Especially since if Polanski hadn't run away, his victim would not now be held up to abuse and slut-shaming by Hollywood. The consequences of his flight include the increased, continuing trauma and attacks against her.
The best (I hesitate to use that word, here, but it fits) perspective I've been able to find on why, perhaps, Polanski should not be prosecuted, comes from Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon. Rather than calling for Polanski to be exonerated because "it was a long time ago" and "he's so brilliant," she at least has the victim's interests in mind:
[S]exual abuse changes a person, forever. It doesn’t make her eternally a victim; it doesn’t taint her or ruin her. It does, however, create a before and after. It’s what happens in the after that matters.
I want to leave Roman Polanski’s victim alone. I don’t want to make her the official spokesperson for sexual victimhood, or relive a life-changing horror. I don't want to presume what's best, when I don't have to live with her nightmares. For Polanski to live out his days scot-free in European ease feels wrong and unfair. It makes a whole lot of us uncomfortable. But I’d rather live with my own revulsion at his actions than carry out some rote exercise in feel-good amends if it means any measure of ease and peace for his victim. I believe her when she says, “It was the media that ruined my life.” And I don’t want to be in the same boat with the man who raped her.
I appreciate the sentiment, here, even though I disagree with the reasoning. Polanski's victim has already been victimized by the media. Twice. Releasing Polanski at this point would only victimize her a third time, in my opinion. As awful as it is that victims of sexual crimes are often the ones ripped apart in the media in the wake of these events, that ship has already sailed.
And what message does it send the would-be rapists, or the "well I thought she was older" or the "she said she wanted it" shrugging, unapologetic child molesters of the world if he's allowed to go free, again?
So where do you stand? Do the crime, do the time? Or thirty years passed and a victim's willingness to let it drop should make it all go away?
Whatever the eventual outcome, I just want to say this: Samantha Geimer, I'm sorry this happened to you. You didn't deserve to be raped and you certainly don't deserve the media rodeo show that's going on now.
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