The Sexist

Common Roman Polanski Defenses, Refuted

Roman Polanski, the 76-year-old filmmaker who was accused of drugging and raping 13-year-old Samantha Geimer in 1977, has been arrested in Switzerland. Polanski, who was convicted of having sex with a minor but fled to France before he could be sentenced, is currently facing extradition back to the United States, where he could finally be sentenced for his 32-year-old conviction. In the wake of Polanski's belated arrest, commentators have posed dozens of arguments in the Oscar-winning director's defense. Most of them are bullshit.

"But he's already paid his price, because everyone knows he's a rapist, and he can never work in Hollywood."

As Patrick Goldstein wrote in the LA Times, "I think Polanski has already paid a horrible, soul-wrenching price for the infamy surrounding his actions. The real tragedy is that he will always, till his death, be snubbed and stalked and confronted by people who think the price he has already paid isn't enough."

Ahh: "the real tragedy." Some people may be under the impression that a 13-year-old being drugged and raped by a 44-year-old man constitutes a "real tragedy." Others may contend that both Polanski and his rape victim have suffered "real tragedies" in their lifetimes. But no, there can only be one the real tragedy, and it is that people have "snubbed" Roman Polanski because he raped someone and skipped town. If only the recognition of the Academy Awards, the BAFTAs, the Berlin International Film Festival, Cannes, the Directors Guild of America, the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Stokholm Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, and dozens of other awards organizations could begin to heal that wound.

"But he escaped the Holocaust / his mother died at Auschwitz / His wife was killed by Charles Manson"

Talk about real tragedies: These, of course, are real tragedies. Upon hearing of Polanski's arrest, French Minister of Culture Frederic Mitterrand announced that he "strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them."

This is a fair argument—and one that can be made about many, many people convicted of crimes in the United States. A lot of the people who are locked up behind bars have endured unspeakable traumas in their own lives—sexual assault, poverty, drug addiction, gang life, homelessness, and mental illness. Why are they held accountable for their actions, while Polanski gets to be like, "Peace, I'm just going to chill in France for thirty years, try not to rape anybody else, and maybe win an Oscar. See you guys later"? It's not because of what he endured. It's because he makes movies.

But let's say, for argument's sake, that Polanski isn't getting a break because he's famous, but rather because he's had a hard life. When France decries "the ordeal" being "inflicted" on Polanski, what the country is really saying is that rape is not important because it's not as horrific as the Holocaust, and not as evil as Charles Manson. And that's a pretty fucked-up standard, oui?

"But he made The Pianist / Chinatown / Rosemary's Baby / Revulsion."

Congratulations, the Huffington Post's Kim Morgan: You win the prize of penning the most disgusting defense of Polanski I've read to date! Morgan prefaces her post by saying she is "not going to go into my Roman Polanski defense," but suffice to say she is "not happy about his arrest." Instead of getting bogged down by the legal gobbledygook, Morgan shoots off a blog post entitled "Roman Polanski Understands Women." Seriously.

"One should not," she writes, "take Polanski's films literally, for they are often heightened versions of what occurs naturally in our world: desire, perversion, repulsion." Okay, but how about his rape of a 13-year-old girl? Are we allowed to take that "natural occurrence" literally? Morgan doesn't directly address that question, but she does argue that Polanski's very brilliance is a product of his relationship with human "darkness":

Polanski's removed morality is exactly why he is often brilliant: He is so empathetic to his characters that, like a trauma victim floating above the pain, he is personally impersonal. He insightfully scrutinizes what is so frightening about being human, yet he doesn't feel the need to be resolute or sentimental about his cognizance. He is also, consciously or subconsciously, aware of the darkness he explores, especially in his female characters, who could be seen as extensions of himself.

You know what I find revolting? When a film critic prefaces her work with a disclaimer about how much it sucks that a rapist is getting arrested for raping someone, and then uses the rapiest imagery possible to applaud his film work. Nope! Sorry! Understanding Women is not a valid defense against rape. Similarly, being a really marvelous film director doesn't mean that you get to rape someone and not go to prison. Even if you made The Pianist.

Remember: making The Pianist and being a rapist are not mutually exclusive.

Read more at:"not happy about his arrest," and goes on to defend "Roman Polanski Understands Woman"

"But the girl's mother made him rape her."

Oops, nevermind, this one is actually an even more disgusting defense of Roman Polanski, also on the Huffington Post:

The 13-year old model 'seduced' by Polanski had been thrust onto him by her mother, who wanted her in the movies. The girl was just a few weeks short of her 14th birthday, which was the age of consent in California. (It's probably 13 by now!) Polanski was demonized by the press, convicted, and managed to flee, fearing a heavy sentence. I met Polanski shortly after he fled America and was filming Tess in Normandy. I was working in the CBS News bureau in Paris, and I accompanied Mike Wallace for a Sixty Minutes interview with Polanski on the set. Mike thought he would be meeting the devil incarnate, but was utterly charmed by Roman's sobriety and intelligence.

So, Polanski is just a really special guy who was practically forced to have sex with that 13-year-old girl by her mother. It's almost as if Roman Polanski was raped by that 13-year-old girl. Also, no, the age of consent in California is not "13 by now," it is 16 18 (!!). By the by: the author of this little gem is Joan Z. Shore, co-founder of Women Overseas for Equality. Thanks, Joan, for your deft approach to women's issues!

"But he didn't know she was 13."

Please, Anne Applebaum. Polanski had to ask her mother for permission to shoot her for Vogue.

"But 13 is old enough to consent to sex"

Let's assume that, like Joan Shore and others have suggested, age 13 is old enough to consent to sex, and Polanski is merely a victim of the Puritanical sex laws of the U.S.A. If that's true, then surely 13 would be old enough to say no to sex, right? Because here's what Geimer said happened at the one-on-one Vogue shoots:

According to Geimer in a 2003 interview, "Everything was going fine; then he asked me to change, well, in front of him." She added, "It didn't feel right, and I didn't want to go back to the second shoot."

Geimer later agreed to a second session, which took place on March 10, 1977 at the Mulholland area home of actor Jack Nicholson in Los Angeles. "We did photos with me drinking champagne," Geimer says. "Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realized he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn't quite know how to get myself out of there." She recalled in a 2003 interview that she began to feel uncomfortable after he asked her to lie down on a bed, and how she attempted to resist. "I said, ‘No, no. I don’t want to go in there. No, I don’t want to do this. No!", and then I didn’t know what else to do,” she stated.

That's rape, whether you are 13 years old or 14 or 16 or 44 or 76.

"But the American justice system is fucked up."

Granted. But if we're going to talk about the fuck-up-edness of the U.S. legal system, surely we can find a better martyr than a famous rich guy with the best lawyers in the world who drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl, struck a plea deal in order to get off with the lesser charge of "unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor" (or statutory rape), and then fled the country when it looked like the plea deal may not be honored? I'm all for Polanski being tried legally and fairly. Over the years, Polanski has repeatedly attempted to appeal the case—a really cool feature of the American legal process he purposefully evaded—but he refuses to appear in court.

Excuse me while I play the world's tiniest piano, but if the American legal system is broken, the fix is not for rapists to just choose their own adventure (in this case, France).

"But his victim has forgiven him"

From Applebaum's column: "The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him, that she can live with the memory, that she does not want him to be put back in court or in jail, and that a new trial will hurt her husband and children."

It's certainly a relief to hear that Geimer, after three decades and a settled civil suit against Polanski, has moved on from her childhood sexual assault. Of course, a victim's should always be considered over the course of a trial. At the same time, forgiveness, sympathy, and identification with one's attacker are fairly common in sexual assault cases, and these sentiments don't make sexual assault any less damaging—or any more legal. Again, you can argue that Polanski is an example of how the American legal system unduly punishes its criminals, but until you're willing to free all the nation's sex offenders and make them promise to just keep their cool until their victims get around to forgiving them, it's not a very solid argument.

"But his victim doesn't want to have to relive her assault again."

Now we're getting somewhere. Samantha Geimer, like many victims of sexual assault, is justified in holding a grudge against the criminal justice system. When a rape victim decides to report her assault to the police, she's looking at years of intense police, legal, and media scrutiny. She will have to relive her assault over and over again over the course of trial and investigation. She will have her sexual history dredged up and put on display. These are all big deterrents to reporting sexual assault. But while a sexual assault victim may never personally recover from the trauma, the public scrutiny, at least, usually ends with the sentencing.

Unless, of course, your attacker is a famous movie director who refuses to be sentenced, in which case you will be forced to relive your assault: a) every time your attacker attempts to cross another country's borders; b) every time your attacker releases a new film; c) every time your attacker attempts to have his conviction overturned; d) every time your attacker does anything noteworthy. The fact that Geimer's childhood sexual assault has haunted her in the press for 30 years is a real tragedy, and one man is responsible for that: Roman Polanski.

  • ElPavoReal

    Blah Blah Blah! This happened 30 years ago, who gives a monkey's ass about this anymore, especially seeing that victim doesn't want this endeavor to continue. That's more important than any other single factor, and it should be the biggest factor in trying to right a legal wrong so far in the past that isn't murder. Finally, WHAT A FRIGGIN WASTE OF MONEY, ESPECIALLY DUE TO THE FACT THE CALIFORNIA DA LOST THE CASE!!! The Puritan Family with vengeance to wield needs GFT! They can't think rationally about a single thing, and the only thing greater than their ignorance is their arrogance. If they really gave a damn about this girl they'd be going after her mother as well, with an even greater sense of righteousness!

    Parents, pull your heads out of your arses and quit commenting, your opinions mean dick, and your views would be laughable were this not a very serious crime that does indeed deserve harsh punishment. To little to late, not to mention frivilous, ludicrous, ridiculous, and wildly straight to late after the fact. I seriously hope this DA gets canned for their foolhardy approach to this case.

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  • pakvapol

    1. you are trying to force Europeans, who base their law on the oldest and best of all law systems, Roman Law, to bow to USA Anglo Saxon based common law. Will not happen. And by continental law all crimes (with the exception of war crimes and genocide), cannot be enforced after (generally) twice time of the highest possible sentence that could be passed (which in this case did) – statute of limitations.
    2. You are rallying to jail a man, who was never condemned for rape or sodomy, never admitted to be guilty of them (he admitted a lesser offence), therefore denying him one of the main tenets of Anglo-Saxon law, that is, nobody is to be persecuted until a court decide it so; and btw. if the USA judge three decades ago would not go back on his decision, it would be different. Polanski didn't spend 42 days in a psychiatric institute, it was Chino prison under psychiatric evaluation. Per a deal brokered by the judge & prosecutors this was to be his entire sentence. After serving the time the judge then reneged on the deal, essentially breaking the law. This is what the Swiss decision is based on! This is what the sworn testimony the Swiss asked for sets out. This is what the present LA courts refused to release because it shows "faults in the extradition request" (ie Polanski has already served his sentence). It requires considerable brains & critical thought to get beyond the mob hysteria, but the BS of this article is irresponsible.
    3. You are hurling epithets about child rape, which suddenly is in your invectives an European thing, while the whole case happened during wild seventies in LA, where, as far as I have researched, the culture was much more permissive of such behaviour and it was generally not punished at all (not that it was a good thing though); but at the same time there was a backlash - the conservative counter revolution started to make examples. So, you judge someone on the sensibilities, culture, moral and law of 2010, while the crime, if, was committed 33 years ago, when he reacted as then “all did” (not an excuse, but still). Hypocrite much? Any analysis from those times about how was such behaviour/crime handled and what is the ratio of punishment for it? Or the rage is better than that?There were a number of such trials at the time, - the trial of Harry Reems anyone?
    4. You shout and bemoan a supposed fact, that is, why do the Europeans not accept your values, while you know very well, that USA values change not only from the state to the state, but from the district to the district. Whose values should Europeans accept and adore instead of theirs and why?Polanski is, so far as I can tell, guilty of a morally reprehensible act, but this case was bungled from the beginning, by USA law enforcement agencies – the fact that Polanski lives in Suisse was known to everyone since 2005, but USA reacted only after direct report from Switzerland in 2009.
    5. The record of the case shows the possibility that the extradition request was seriously flawed, and that in fact, Roman Polanski had already served the sentence for which he had been convicted. That Switzerland couldn't get a California court to provide a sensitive document likely favourable to Polanski confirms this suspicion. This was compounded by the fact that the rape victim behind the case against the artist, has said several times that she has forgiven him and no longer wants to hear this story going back over 30 years. No Suisse councillor could ignore these facts when considering a request to extradite the film-maker. 
    6. The very circumstances surrounding Roman Polanski's arrest were heavily in his favour. The film-maker was arrested upon arrival in Zurich, after he was invited by Swiss authorities to receive an award. This was to be a senior federal official who was to praise him - on behalf of Switzerland. Polanski's confidence in Switzerland was badly betrayed by the zeal of an official who himself reported to U.S. authorities the moment the director arrived on Swiss soil. This - despite the fact that Polanski regularly stayed in Switzerland at a cottage he owns - and without anyone questioning or worrying about it. Swiss rule of law - that all citizens are equal under the law - was wrongly invoked to justify Polanski's arrest. Or else, how can we justify the way this principle was never brandished to trigger Polanski's arrest during his frequent trips to Gstaad?And, how many times did USA refuse to extradite a criminal to another country? David Headly for example? What goes around comes around.
    7. And you forget that this is not USA ramming its law and morals into others nations throats, this is a fundamental cultural issue: to what extent is a law universal - how much should it be subject to national, cultural interpretations?

  • William D


    Well golly. Have you folks started releasing criminals caught and convicted after they committed their crimes, since your legal system is apparently required to absolve the guilty as long as differences in culture are present?

    Can you even convict foreigners?

    Better re-examine Simon Wiesenthal's work. Some of those poor war criminals might not be guilty any longer since the times have changed so drastically.

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  • BHZ

    I welcome decision not to extradite Polanski. Women who have sex with boys get away with it all the time, a couple of thousand more cases like this and we'll start approaching gender equality.

    Also interesting to note how quickly the "victim" started supporting her "rapist" after receiving a big check in a civil suit case. Makes one wonder how truthful and uncoerced her original testimony was.