Posted in Miscellany

*Roman Polanski

Many people have written about this and eloquently, so I’ll keep it short. A man raped a child. His fame or talents are irrelevant. Others have stated this. And though it seems obvious, it is worth repeating. However, there is something else I wonder about, that nobody else has said, to my knowledge.

A basketball player or football player or other athlete found with weed or other drugs is pummeled in the media. People say for shame, you are a role model, and look what you are modeling. How disappointing. How devastating. The athletes are expected to do their time, make up for their crime, and express remorse.

But a filmmaker instead gets people on his side, extolling his talent, forgiving his age (well he’s old now because he got away with the crime for so many years). Is the rape of a child less offensive than smoking dope or snorting cocaine? Why is nobody saying: what are you modeling? For shame. How disappointing. How devastating.

So what’s this all about? Is it a class thing? Athletes often come out of poverty and many aren’t white. This filmmaker is European. He speaks French. Is that the reason he’s excused?

Not in my book. There is no excuse. Not in any circumstance. If anything, I would say that because of his public role, he has more responsibility for his behaviour. And because of his advantages, he has more responsibility to own up to what he has done and to be called to account for it.

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Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

30 thoughts on “*Roman Polanski

  1. In general I agree with you, and in particular in this case, there is no reason why Polanski should get special treatment because he is rich famous and clever.

    What I have trouble with is the arbitrariness of the statutory rape laws. If an 18 year old boy has sex with a 15 year old girl in many places that is statutory rape, and the boy can be marked for life as a sex criminal. I wish that kids these days would postpone having sex until they are old enough to take the responsibilities that may ensue. But I don’t think they should become criminals because of it. That’s too harsh.

    1. In this case it wasn’t statutory rape–though that would have been enough. It was rape by force of a 13 year old. I understand what you’re saying about two adolescents. Some places account for that by having 2 ages of consent, one that is absolute, and another that is conditional on there being no more than a certain amount of age difference.

  2. It is simply appalling that people (mostly celebrities) are making excuses for this man, asking that he be exonerated of criminal charges.

    It doesn’t matter one bit how brilliant a film maker he was/is, how famous he is or how old he is. he is a rapist – he raped a child.

  3. Absolutely agree. It’s time to stop letting “famous” people off the hook for bad behavior. And raping a child is about as bad as it gets.

  4. I agree – he needs to face up to this. I would say that even though the crime itself was horrible, there are extenuating circumstances which will help him. Running away for ever is not the answer.

  5. I am ambivalent. The woman concerned no longer wishes Polanski to be punished. Doesn’t that count for something?

    However, I think he should have stayed in the US at the time of the law case and accepted the judgement then or appealed against the decision.

    The trouble is that US justice and political systems have such a bad reputation. From reports here the person behind the current drive to prosecute Polanski now is doing so for political self advancement.

  6. lightsnaps:

    a. the justice system does not exist to carry out people’s personal vendettas. it is not obligated to let criminals off the hook when their victims decide they don’t want to pursue punishment, because those criminals are still a menace to society. if Polanski had been put in jail for the crime he committed, he might not have abused another underage girl.

    b. people bringing up this argument are rarely doing so for her sake.

  7. Lilian – I’m not saying exonerating but from what I hear (and I could be woefully misinformed) there are a number of factors which would probably lead to RP not doing jailtime or having a reduced sentence. Firstly, the fact that he paid compensation to the victim for the crime and that she no longer wants him to go to jail. I think the extremely long time between crime and prosecution (given the intervening events) would lead to a lesser sentence. Personal factors at the time of the crime could be relevant. For example, I read somewhere that he was a holocaust survivor and there was other trauma which led to his being quite disturbed at the time. None of which excuses what he did, which was truly horrific. What do you think?

    1. Hi Pete, Thanks for replying. I think it’s important to deal with these factors, because they are floating around and people are wondering how to account for them. My own thought is that he ran away rather than face up to the charges and that any intervening time is his own fault. The victim doesn’t want a trial because it would be traumatic for her. I wish her peace and understand her feelings. But I think that he should stand trial for his crime just like anybody else, especially such a horrendous crime, which his fame and means have allowed him to escape until now. I don’t buy two standards of behaviour: one for the poor or unremarkable, and another for the rich or famous. Being a holocaust survivor does not give him a get out of trouble free card or make an excuse for him. As another commenter said, that demeans the many people who have suffered terrible things and make it their business to live a decent and caring life. I know many people personally who have suffered unbelievable atrocities, in child abuse, in war, and other situations: their greatest hope is to bring up the next generation in peace, cherished. They work their butts off to do that. If Polanski had voluntarily faced the charges when they were originally made or any time since, and willingly gone into treatment while or after serving his sentence, I could respect that. But he didn’t. I have no respect for him and cannot agree that his sufferings made him act like an asshole, worse, because the human rectum has an important biological function.

  8. Pete, the “intervening events” were him fleeing the jurisdiction because he didn’t want to pay for the crime he’d committed.

    Also? Speaking as the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors: if his past makes him commit crimes, he needs to be institutionalized. It is not an excuse, and to say that it is is an insult to the survivors who don’t go around raping minors.

  9. Rebecca – I’m not saying it’s an excuse, I’m saying it should be taken into consideration when passing sentence. If you’re saying that previous trauma shouldn’t be taken into consideration in evaluating a crime then I think you and I should just agree to disagree.

    1. Peter, how sentences are constructed is a legal matter and I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know what the laws are in regard to it in the U.S. where he committed the crime. But to be sentenced, he has to face the charges that he has run away from.

  10. Rebecca, there are holocaust survivors in my family, too. When I was younger, I excused them for the unexcusable. But there are certain behaviours where I have to draw the line. Litlove commenting on another post made the point that differentiations need to be made when talking about forgiveness for example (link here). Child rape is where I draw the line. Nobody gets a pass on that.

  11. I don’t believe that child abuse is ever to be condoned and I think that Polanski should have faced up 30 years ago. It would all be over now if he had.

    However, 30 years have passed and the victim no longer wishes the prosecution to proceed. That does make me think about whether it is worth it. The people who now stand to gain are the lawyers who will make millions and those people who have voracious appetites for vicarious scandals.

    Someone earlier made a comment about there not being two standards of justice for the rich and the poor in the US.

    Well, there are of course if you look at the bigger picture. People who have money (like Polanski perhaps) often get off or get minimal punishment because they have access to legal and educational resources. Many of the poor in America don’t have that access and there are laws which are clearly prejudiced against the poor or ‘different’. I am making a general comment here, not saying that Polanski is disadvantaged.

    This is clearly a very complex issue and I asked myself yesterday why I am even thinking about something which belongs to a faraway time and culture.

    As a film maker Polanski’s major works belong to a time of my youth. I remember being disturbed at his understanding of darkness and at the way the darkness followed him through the murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate. These things merely explain my interest in this case and that is all.

    But I also wonder where forgiveness comes in. Have we lost the capacity to forgive? If Polanski’s victim has forgiven and let go and such a long period of time has passed where there have been no further transgressions, why can’t society do the same?

    1. Lightsnaps, I think that there should not be two standards of behaviour or justice, and when there obviously are, as with Polanski, I feel it’s my responsibility to object.

      I haven’t read that his victim has forgiven him, only that she doesn’t want to deal with remembering it all again, but crimes are prosecuted for being crimes, not for the personal satisfaction of the victims. And if she has forgiven him, then that is her personal process based on her own understanding of forgiveness. I’ve written separately on what I think forgiveness is about.

      Polanski committed a crime. Bank robbers don’t get to skip their trial, drug dealers don’t get to skip their trial, embezzlers don’t get to skip their trial, why should child rapists?

  12. lightsnaps, while lawyers and the media certainly will make money, I think prosecuting now is also immensely beneficial because it will be proof that being rich and famous does not give anyone a free pass to commit a crime. Hopefully that will prevent some rich and famous people from committing crimes.

    Samantha Geimer might not gain from prosecuting Polanski now. Neither will Nastassja Kinski. But the hypothetical future victims of hypothetical future artistes will.

  13. If only it were that simple, Rebecca!

    I think the system will make an example of Polanski and he will have a chance to put his case for an end to it all if there is to be a new trial. It is a pity he didn’t stay with it all those years ago but none of us will ever fully know the reasons for that.

    I doubt that this will in any way prevent future crimes or change the US legal system for the better. Nor will it address current social and economic inequities under the law. Things will be as they will be.

  14. You have a point in that a legal process started usually has to be completed in some way. Polanski will have a chance to put his case when he returns to the US as it looks as if he must.

    The Courts will then decide what to do.

    To be honest, I am not fully aware of all the details of the case and will let it go myself now :).

    There have been instances here where Courts and other legal authorities have dropped charges or passed mild sentences given the mitigating factors of time and lives well lived despite the original crime.

  15. Crime is crime. I don’t care who committed it. Crime among the movie industry may make me more disgusted than any. Because the people are rich and beautiful (at least rich), they are respected. I have not a shred more respect for them because they are so rich. (Same with sports stars.) They are people. Punish them as I would be punished for such a horrible thing.

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