Roman Polanski

// 29 September 2009

There’s been some discussion going on here about the Roman Polanski case, so I thought I’d do a fresh post on the subject. For those who haven’t been following the news, film director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland, where he was due to attend a film festival to receive a lifetime achievement award, under an international arrest warrant issued by the US after Polanski fled the country in 1977. He had appeared in court on charges of drugging, raping and sodomising 13-year-old model Samantha Gailey, and pleaded guilty to ‘unlawful sex with a minor’ in exchange for further charges being dropped. Afraid that the judge was going to renege on this promise, he fled to France, and has never returned to the US. You can read Gailey’s full testimony here (trigger warning)*.

So essentially he got away with raping a child and has continued to enjoy international fame and success ever since; you’d think it was pretty clear cut that he deserves to pay for what he did, right? Well apparently there’s a special get out of jail free card if you make great films. Over 70 international film makers have signed a petition demanding Polanski’s immediate release, complaining that the Zurich film festival should not have been used as an excuse to arrest him, and that the poor dude will ‘face heavy consequences’ and lose his freedom should be be extradited. The French government has vowed to lobby the US for his release. Shame on all of them, quite frankly, and I’m sad to have to include one of my favourite directors, Pedro Almodovar, in there.

Amanda Hess has an excellent round-up and refutation of a whole range of arguments made in Polanski’s defence, from the ‘but he didn’t know she was 13!’ to ‘he’s already suffered enough’. Meanwhile, as commenters have already pointed out, the UK press seems incapable of telling the difference between ‘had sex with’ and ‘raped’, so softening the light in which Polanski is portrayed and colluding in this huge international act of rape apologism. It hurts all of us, and I hope to hell he’s brought to justice.

*Thanks to reader maggie for the link.

Comments From You

Clumperino // Posted 29 September 2009 at 5:52 pm

Great to see this being tackled here – I am fed up with the media pandering to Polanski! But I am conflicted by the fact that Gailey has asked for the issue to be dropped. Of course the man should pay for his heinous crime and no doubt if he was just your regular man on the street he definitely would. I find the whole discussion of the case problematic. But is the justice system, in pursuing the case, violating the victim again by this process?

Jennifer Drew // Posted 29 September 2009 at 6:04 pm

Amanda Hess’s article very succinctly and clearly says it all – why Polanski is indeed a convicted rapist and not a ‘poor victimised man.’

If Polanski escapes being extradicted this will send yet another message to all women that male violence against women and children is a trivial issue and powerful white men’s rights(?) supercede women’s and girls’ rights not to have their bodies and minds subjected to male sexual violence.

Sexism does not even begin to describe the rape apologism and denials being used to hide and deny Polanski’s accountability and responsibility for his actions.

Felicity // Posted 29 September 2009 at 6:38 pm

It’s so sad people are trying to make us think about this. I hate this bizzarro land world where the biggest stars and directors feel a thirteen year old child ‘asked for it’ – she’s a female in the making after all. We shouldn’t even have to debate it!! it’s crazy.

I’ve lost all respect for anyone who supports him, definitely up to and including Jack Nicholson. What complete bone heads.

Lynne Miles // Posted 29 September 2009 at 6:44 pm

Kate is brilliant on this subject …

Sophie // Posted 29 September 2009 at 7:14 pm

Whilst I agree Polanski’s actions and evasion of justice were disgusting, I’d guess that the reason at least some of the media coverage has used the phrase ‘had sex with’ rather than ‘raped’ would be because he pleaded guilty of was ‘unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor’ (or statutory rape) after his plea bargin. Of course this is not true of all of the media and as always in rape cases some of the coverage has an apologist bias, but some coverage such as this,, Guardian article do explain the distinction and their choice of words.

maggie // Posted 29 September 2009 at 7:19 pm

Amanda Heiss’s article is both excellent and disturbing. I particularly like the last paragraph.

It is Mr Polanski’s avoidance of his sentance that has dragged this out for Ms Gailey. He needs to do the decent thing for her and return to the States and face his punishment. Sadly, he seems to be still in control despite being a fugitive.

Steph // Posted 29 September 2009 at 7:44 pm

I was really angry seeing people like Debra Winger and the rest of tinseltown so readily supporting Polanski in all of this… what he did to that 13 year old was appalling and they’ve all been painting Polanski as the victim!!!! Grrrrr.

Sarah // Posted 29 September 2009 at 7:58 pm

He was caught and confessed bang to rights. The only question I have is why did this take so long?

polly // Posted 29 September 2009 at 8:05 pm

I was utterly infuriated by this in the Guardian today.

“Jean Genet, the poet, novelist and playwright considered one of France’s greatest 20th-century literary talents, was given up for adoption by his mother, a young prostitute, when he was one. Brilliant at school, he spent his childhood thieving and running away from home. Half his adolescence was spent in a young offenders’ institution. He was dishonourably discharged from the army on a charge of indecency, roamed Europe as a vagrant, thief and homosexual prostitute, then spent a lengthy period in and out of jail in Paris following a dozen or so arrests for larceny, the use of false papers, vagabondage and lewd behaviour”

How does being a thief, vagrant and homosexual prostitute in any way compare to being a paedophile rapist? The only one that is a crime there is being a thief, and I’d rather spend time with a thief than Polanksi.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 29 September 2009 at 8:45 pm

Whilst Samantha Gailey is reported to have ‘forgiven rapist Polanski’ that should not detract from the fact Polanski was convicted of rape. If we accept say, a murderer is forgiven by relatives/friends of the person he murdered then this means the murderer should not be prosecuted for his crime.

Should the criminal justice system not prosecute any case if the victim and/or their relatives/friends make a public statement saying they forgive the perpetrator for his crimes against the victim(s). What message does this send to all potential perpetrators – that if they can coerce or use their influence to force a victim to ‘forgive’ then the crime immediately disappears. No, Polanski commited a crime and was convicted so he must be extradicted to the US.

We do not know what pressure Ms. Gailey was subjected to before making the statement she forgives Polanski. Nor should we forget female survivors of men’s sexual violence do not all react or deal with the fall out in identical ways. Also, we must not forget the media is never objective but instead consistently sensationalises male sexual violence cases and always focuses minutely on the actions of the female survivor never the male perpetrator(s).

But the criminal justice system is supposedly concerned with prosecuting and if the perpetrators are convicted, passing an appropriate sentence.

So, the issue is fact Polanski committed rape and sodomised a 13 year old girl and when he was convicted fled the US in order to escape punishment for his crime.

Anne Onne // Posted 29 September 2009 at 9:15 pm

That refutation is fantastic. I’d like to see how he’s ‘paid the price’ if he has neither served jail time for what he has done, nor actually suffered massively in his career, and in fact has hoards of people defending him. Yep, you gotta feel sorry for someone who uses drugs to rape a 13 year old (regardless of what he was technically convicted of, sex with a 13 year old is rape), cuts a plea bargain and then runs away and yet carries on being a celebrated filmmaker. It’s simply so TRAGIC to be a child rapist who gets off scott free and is internationally famous.

It doesn’t matter what he suffered in the past, he doesn’t get a ‘inflict worse pain on others freely’ card. There isn’t any excuse for raping anyone, let alone someone so young. People are always shocked at how prevalent sexual violence seems to be, and how hard it is to get a conviction, and THIS is why. Because as a society we truly refuse to believe that any man deemed to have any merit by society, could have raped a woman or girl (or boy or man, perhaps) unless the victim was the paragon of virtue and the evidence was truly staggering. And even then, when someone has been convicted, we as a society make a million excuses for the rapist. Would we do this for most murderers as we do most rapists? No.

msruth // Posted 29 September 2009 at 10:06 pm

I find the ‘he has suffered enough’ arguments so insulting. It is basically suggesting that going through something like the Holocaust can be assuaged by being allowed to get away with rape. There is nothing that can make up for that and I think people who say something like he has suffered already are saying you can trade one pain for another and you can’t.

I have boycotted Polanski’s films for years because of this case (even though I really wanted to see The Pianist). I think I may have to add the directors who have signed this petition because sad as it will make me to not see some of their films, I don’t want to watch a film by someone who doesn’t know that rape is wrong.

Laura // Posted 29 September 2009 at 10:17 pm

@ Sophie, I agree – we discussed this in the earlier thread and I forgot to make that point in my post, thanks for bringing it up.

Elmo // Posted 29 September 2009 at 10:43 pm

there are some people saying “but its not really rape because she gave her consent”, conveniently forgetting he DRUGGED HER, why would he drug her if she had given her consent? i just dont understand how anyone can defend someone who drugs a 13yr old child and then has sex with them.

and about this whole “oh, but its all in the past, she’s forgiven him”-well, Nazi war criminals are still being brought to justice, arnt they? they arnt forgiven just because they committed crimes 60 years ago. i am appalled that celebrities feel his artistic merit is enough to excuse him from this repulsive act-so glad there is somewhere to discuss this

on a related issue, a cambridge professer recently suggested the age of consent should be changed to 13. is he mad? surely if he considered this case he would change his mind?

Laurel Dearing // Posted 29 September 2009 at 11:50 pm

traumatic past means we can understand. it doesnt mean it can be excused or else the cycle goes on and on. when you were drugged, and 13 i dont see how it can be anything but rape regardless of forgiveness. it wasnt some misunderstanding common due to what patriarchy teaches, that one can be forgiven for by simply not doing it again. it is something which i cannot imagine forgiving without them being punished, seeking help and actively trying to teach others about it and campaigning against it. this man ran away from court and is trying to get out of it. he might be hurting, but he obviously isnt sorry and hasnt accepted responsibility. i dont think the general public even has the right to forgive someone when forgiveness was in no way requested, simply being excused. it may be better for the survivors mentality to let it go, and i support that, but the ret of us have a responsibility to uphold that rape is a big deal and wont be taken lightly. i thought this was at least the way it went when underage and proven, even if over 16s are considered fair game…

Melanie // Posted 29 September 2009 at 11:56 pm

While I have also been totally sickened by the “But he deserves to go free, as he’s such a great artist!” defence (particularly when it issues from the mouths of people who really ought to know better, like Monica Bellucci and Andrzej Wajda) and even more so by the “She wasn’t a virgin, therefore what he did was perfectly all right” argument (there was a grotesque statement to that effect by the film director Krzysztof Zanussi in the Polish media today), I think it is too easy to concentrate on vilifying Polanski as an individual, when, as I see it, this case highlights the way that the system as a whole was stacked against rape victims in the 1970s and still does today.

While I acknowledge that Polanski’s flight from the US and repeated evasion of arrest has been the major causal factor in the relentless press harassment of Samantha Geimer, which she now wishes to allay by dropping the case, the fact that the Californian authorities have continued to pursue Polanski contrary to her express wishes, in my opinion, shows that, in the prosecution of sexual offences, the wishes, interests and status of the victim are held to be negligible.

Also, although I agree that Polanski deserved to go to jail, it has become increasingly clear that he would not have faced a fair sentence had he stayed for sentencing at the hands of a xenophobic, anti-Semitic judge who was prepared to renege on a plea bargain agreement (like a lot of people outside the US, I find the whole plea bargain system bizarre and disturbing, but it is part of the legitimate legal system there) and ignore legal precedent and procedure and Polanski’s psychiatric reports, in order to court popularity with the press. Even rapists have a right to be fairly sentenced, according to the standard tariffs of the place where they are prosecuted.

What I find truly shocking is, not that Polanski evaded justice, but that so many other sex offenders at that time got off scot free or extremely leniently. Apparently, the life sentence contemplated by the judge was particularly controversial because in California in that era, no-one convicted of a similar offence to Polanski had ever received a custodial sentence. This is not an excuse for letting Polanski off, but many feel that, as a Jew and a foreigner, he was singled out as a scapegoat when many others (and especially those in the entertainment industry) were getting away with the same or worse. And I still think that there is a danger that the world will concentrate its ire on one individual who has become a cause celebre, instead of asking hard questions about how and why justice systems in the US and elsewhere, then and now, have continually failed the victims of sexual violence. Why, for instance, are the accused still able to use plea bargains to evade prosecution for the most serious charges levelled against them?

JenniferRuth // Posted 30 September 2009 at 9:31 am

I still have a problem with using the words “had sex” in cases of sexual assault or rape. It seems to be the only crime when people are not willing to refer to it for what it was until a conviction has been made. No-one goes around saying “He was touched in an aggressive manner” when they mean mugging or assault. Yet somehow, when it comes to rape or sexual assault, we have to dance around the issue using words that imply that the victim was just a-ok with what happened.

Yes, I *do* think this is because it is a crime that predominantly effects women.

I’ll concede in this case to using “unlawful sex with a minor” since that was what he pleaded guilty too but “had sex” is just in a whole different ball park. I had sex the other night and I wouldn’t compare it for a moment to my sexual abuse.

Kit // Posted 30 September 2009 at 9:54 am

@msruth I’m with you on that boycott. I don’t think I’ve actually seen a Roman Polanski film, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some by others named in that list. It’s very disappointing. What is wrong with them?

Is there a petition to counter this one?

sianmarie // Posted 30 September 2009 at 10:25 am

msruth i totally agree. i can see how it is “tempting” for polanski’s cheerleaders to use the “he had a sad life” argument, from surviving the holocaust to the sharon tate murder, but really, wtf? bad things happen to people, tragic things, and not all of them go on to rape children.

this is no excuse for such behaviour. at all. full stop.

and the great art excuse is just as lame. there are many great artists. not all of them use their fame as an excuse to rape (altho i am sure some do). if polanski is excused, then what message are we sending out to women, and to men in society.


JenniferRuth // Posted 30 September 2009 at 1:13 pm


Is there a petition to counter this one?

Not that I know of, but not everyone in Hollywood is defending Polanski.

Kevin Smith:

Greg Grunberg from “Heroes”:

Luc Besson refused to sign the Hollywood petition, saying that no one should be above the law.

But that’s all I know of…

Kit // Posted 30 September 2009 at 1:54 pm

@JenniferRuth Oh wow, thanks! I am so glad to see there actually are famous people speaking against it all.

Anne Onne // Posted 30 September 2009 at 5:35 pm

@ sianmarie: I respect your opinion, and agree with the gist of your argument, but can we not use ableist language (ie lame), please?

I agree, though. There is no ‘but he/she is a great artist/whatever’ excuse. Being a supposed genius or whatever does not mean you get off scot-free for the rest of your life.

polly styrene // Posted 30 September 2009 at 9:49 pm

At the heart of the reluctance to condemn Polanski, and other famous men, for sex crimes is I think the beliefs that society holds not only about rape victims but rapists. Thus not only must certain circumstances pertain for what Whoopi Goldberg considers to be ‘rape rape’, but there must be a stereotypical rapist.

Basically no one wants to believe that *nice* men can rape. They can. They do.

The most pernicious rape myth is surely that rapists are only monsters outcast from society. Not ordinary men.

eawicga // Posted 30 September 2009 at 10:49 pm

Kirstie Alley has spoken out against Polanski on Twitter

JenniferRuth // Posted 1 October 2009 at 3:38 pm

Blog post compiling a list of all Hollywood-types who have spoken out against Polanski:

Kez // Posted 1 October 2009 at 3:58 pm

JenniferRuth, fab link, thanks for that. Never heard of most of the names, but still!

Jack // Posted 1 October 2009 at 9:54 pm

If creative talent justifies a Get Out of Jail Free card, what level of immunity should other directors’ talent let them get away with?

steven // Posted 2 October 2009 at 9:35 am

Hollywood shows its true face! Protecting one of its own, even one who has openly admitted to carrying out such despicable acts. These people who hold such power over the media, have a duty to defend the victim not this unrepentant repulsive excuse of a man. If Hollywood has grown so insular from and arrogant to society at large, its time they were knocked down a peg or two. This is such an important matter of principle, and Hollywood are such a powerful political machine, I can’t help thinking that a dedicated petition website should be set up to help counter balance this machine and persuade the politicians of the seriousness of this matter. Kind Regards Steven Parry, England

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