by Jeff Fecke | September 28, 2009 • It’s funny. If your average guy were to rape a 13-year-old girl and then flee into exile rather than paying for his crime, pretty much everyone and their twin sister would agree that he was a scumbag who deserved nothing less than the hammer of justice brought down upon him. Turn that average guy into a rich artist with good connections, and suddenly the crime wasn’t that bad, the girl was probably asking for it (or her mother was, whatever), and it’s really close to fascism to put the guy through the indignity of being extradited to face justice.
I’m having trouble picking out just what my favorite instant rape apology is; there are several good ones, so I just thought I’d share a few of the best.
One of the better ones is from novelist Robert Harris, who was collaborating with Polanski on an upcoming film:
Robert Harris, a British novelist who said he had been working with Polanski for much of the past three years writing two screenplays, expressed outrage over the arrest….”I am shocked that any man of 76, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion,” he said in a statement, adding that Polanski had often visited Switzerland and even had a house in Gstaad….”It is hard not to believe that this heavy-handed action must be in some way politically motivated,” he said.
Why, he had a house in Gstaad! And, and, he’s…uh…old! Clearly he shouldn’t be held accountable for actions he took when he was a poor, foolish boy of…(adjusts glasses, reads text)…just 44 years old. The idea!
Of course, some might say that it’s shocking that a girl of 13, whether “consenting” or not, could be drugged and raped by a man almost three times her age. But I bet she doesn’t have a house in Gstaad. So there.
Joan Z. Shore of The Huffington Post argues that the girl was asking for it, or at least her mom was, and besides, she was almost of age, so…yeah:
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.
Fun fact: the age of consent in 1977 in California was 16. It’s now 18.
But of course, the age of consent isn’t like horseshoes or global thermonuclear war; close doesn’t count. Even if the age of consent had been 14, the girl wasn’t 14.
As for whether the girl’s mother “thrust” the girl onto Polanski (which she didn’t; testimony at the time indicated the mother was unaware of the photo shoot), it wouldn’t matter if the mother delivered her daughter naked to Jack Nicholson’s hot tub herself, and helped Polanski get the Quaalude ready. No parent can consent to their under-aged child having sex.
Also, of course, this entire line of argument sort of goes out the window when you remember that Polanski drugged and forcibly raped the victim [warning: link goes to graphic grand jury testimony that may be triggering], which kind of makes the age of consent utterly moot. (Incidentally, the fact that she was underage makes the force utterly moot. You can’t be 44 and legally have sex with a 13-year-old in California. Statutory rape has the word rape in it for a reason.)
Many, many articles cited the fact that the victim, now grown up and 45 years old, has said she wants the case to be let go, because each time it gets dredged up it brings up painful memories of her being raped. I choose the Telegraph because its headline puts the word victim in scare quotes, because…something:
In January, [the victim]1 filed a legal declaration in Los Angeles formally requesting that the outstanding charges against Polanski be withdrawn.
She said Los Angeles prosecutors’ insistence that Polanski must return to the United States before dismissal of the case could be considered as a “cruel joke being played on me”.
She also voiced anger that authorities had detailed her grand jury testimony in related hearings to the case.
“True as they may be, the continued publication of those details causes harm to me, my beloved husband, my three children and my mother,” she said, adding that it was time for closure.
“I have survived, indeed prevailed, against whatever harm Mr Polanski may have caused me as a child,” she said. Polanski had taken flight, she said, “because the judicial system did not work.”
I understand the victim’s feelings on this. And I sympathize, I do. But for good or ill, the justice system doesn’t work on behalf of victims; it works on behalf of justice. And while the victim is no doubt hurt by Polanski’s drawing this out for decades, ultimately more women would be hurt by a justice system that allowed convicted rapists to avoid punishment simply because they were rich and could afford to flee jail. Ultimately, the victim’s feelings must be considered, but they can not be the determining factor in whether a prosecution goes forward.
I said at the beginning that I was having trouble picking out a favorite rape apologist. But I must confess, I think I’ve settled on one. That would be The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum, declaring that Polanski’s arrest was “outrageous,” because he’s famous:
There is evidence that Polanski did not know her real age. Polanski, who panicked and fled the U.S. during that trial, has been pursued by this case for 30 years, during which time he has never returned to America, has never returned to the United Kingdom., has avoided many other countries, and has never been convicted of anything else. He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.
He can be blamed, it is true, for his original, panicky decision to flee. But for this decision I see mitigating circumstances, not least an understandable fear of irrational punishment. Polanski’s mother died in Auschwitz. His father survived Mauthausen. He himself survived the Krakow ghetto, and later emigrated from communist Poland. His pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by the followers of Charles Manson, though for a time Polanski himself was a suspect.
I am certain there are many who will harrumph that, following this arrest, justice was done at last. But Polanski is 76. To put him on trial or keep him in jail does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. If he weren’t famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all.
Yes, it’s true, if Polanski wasn’t famous, he wouldn’t be in this mess, because he wouldn’t have had access to Jack Nicholson’s house while Jack was out of town. And he wouldn’t have been able to flee to France. And he wouldn’t have been able to live comfortably for 30 years. But hey, the poor guy had to forgo his Oscar! The horror!
Ultimately, Applebaum’s argument is pretty foolish. Admittedly, there’s been all sorts of tragedy in Polanski’s life, but that doesn’t justify his committing several felonies. Most Holocaust survivors did not grow up to become rapists.
But it’s worse than that. You see, you may not realize it, but Applebaum is married to a guy named Radosław Sikorski. Now, that’s pretty uninteresting, until you realize that Sikorski is the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs. Who just happens to be actively lobbying to have Polish native Polanski’s charges dismissed.
This is something Applebaum somehow forgot to mention in her column.
Time for another blogger ethics panel, I guess.