After successfully playing the victim card, Roman Polanski is going to get off with little more than the proverbial slap on the wrist. But should anybody 8212; whether celebrity, legal authority or member of the public at large 8212; consider the award-winning film director a victim? No.
The victim is the 13-year-old child he raped in 1977.
The details of the case have been told over and over again in the popular media, yet still they are shocking. In late September, Polanski, 76, was arrested in Switzerland on a charge of unlawful sex with a minor 8212; a crime to which he pleaded guilty over 30 years ago in a U.S. court. He fled the country before being sentenced, after hearing rumours that the plea bargain sparing him prison time might not be honoured, and began a life of American exile in France.
Since his arrest, a contingent of journalists, bloggers and Hollywood bigwigs rallied behind the movie director, calling for his immediate release. They argued he didn’t really “rape” the girl; he had suffered enough already; it happened such a long time ago, the case should be dropped.
Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post wrote Polanski has “paid for the crime,” having spent more than three decades in exile.
Yes, he has been in exile from the U.S. since he fled, but Polanski, once out of the U.S., continued working, won an Academy Award, got married and had two children. That’s hardly a “life of exile.”
Before all that 8212; before he ran away in fear 8212; Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl part of a Quaalude and some champagne to wash it down before performing oral, vaginal and anal sex on her. He ignored the girl’s pleas for him to “stop” and “keep away,” according to a grand jury testimony she gave two weeks after the 1977 rape.
When Polanski was arrested he claimed the sex was consensual. Evidence in her testimony suggests otherwise. Even if she had consented, Samantha Geimer was 13-years-old. The age of consent in California in 1977 was 16.
With Polanski’s arrest, Geimer was forced into the spotlight, where she expressed her wish to have the charges dropped. As a matter of respect to the victim, Polanski’s future should have been determined without making Geimer re-live the events of 32 years ago. Whereas her right to privacy should have been honoured, her wish to have the charges dropped should not have.
Sentencing Polanski would have made the point that rape is a serious crime, regardless of a victim’s age or perpetrator’s stature. If a rapist is caught 8212; whether the arrest comes one day or one century after the crime 8212; they need to be punished. Polanski’s case has devalued the seriousness of the crime.
Working in Europe and living at home with a family is not punishment for raping a child. Hop scotching for 30 years over countries that could extradite him is not punishment. Before spending the past three decades as an upstanding citizen, Roman Polanski raped a child. Two months ago, he was arrested. Today, he should have paid.
Once again, the cult of celebrity has trumped the judicious application of the law. And once again, the news cycle will continue and Polanski’s crimes will fade into abyss of our collective memory. If raping a child is not enough, what kind of crime will it take before we start holding successful people to the same standards of justice to which we hold ourselves.