Guest post: More on Polanski

// 2 October 2009

Guest post by Rosamund Urwin, journalist – for more on Polanski’s arrest see Laura and Louise’s posts

It has been with horror that I have read most of the newspaper coverage of Roman Polanski’s arrest. It is bad enough, if predictable, that the famous have been queuing up to declare their support for him, a man who – let’s not forget – drugged and raped a 13 year-old. But why is some of the media buying it?

“He has suffered so much”, “It was a long time ago”, his admirers say. Both true, neither means we should forget what he has done. “He didn’t know she was 13”- possibly true, again no excuse. Rape is a crime, no matter what the perpetrator has gone through, how many years have since passed or how old the victim is, or was perceived, to be.

Among the highlights of the horrors, the Independent – from whom I would have hoped for better – closed its news story with the following lines:

“Polanski once demanded of an interviewer: “Do you think there is anything more to my life than my relationship with young women?” This weekend’s arrest suggests that in spite of his huge achievements as a film-maker and artist, the answer to this question as far as the US judicial system is concerned is still a resounding “No”.”

Well, of course it is a resounding no. Is the US judiciary now some sort of film critic? When crimes are assessed is it obligated to take into account what else the perpetrator has done for the world?

No, and we wouldn’t wish it to be.

The next day, the Indy called it “Polanski: the big debate”, with a very intelligent piece from Dominic Lawson – one of the few writing common sense on the subject – pitched against Harvey Weinstein arguing Polanski should be freed. Weinstein wrote of Polanski’s “so-called crime”. There is nothing “so-called” about what he did: even under the highly unlikely scenario that she had consented, it would still have been statutory rape because she was a minor.

I don’t see anything wrong with celebrating Polanski the film-maker, because moral judgments should not inform artistic verdicts. But nor should genius excuse criminality. Given him Oscars if you want, but Polanski the rapist deserves to do his time.

Comments From You

Claire // Posted 2 October 2009 at 1:39 pm

Please everyone sign the attached petition. It’s gathered 1000 signatures since yesterday. If we all got 10 more each, it must help to show the groundswell of opinion against Polanski’s escape from justice and those that support him.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 2 October 2009 at 1:41 pm

its odd because any sites ive seen with mostly female readers are all on this side of the fence, including not particularly feminist ones. and yet our mainstream media and celebrities are the ones making out like theres some sort or argument… i havent heard one good argument for his case.

lucy // Posted 2 October 2009 at 3:34 pm

Just for the record, Polanski did know she was 13. this is not in doubt. it’s clearly stated in the plea transcript :

Aside from the fact that “he thought she was older” is clearly no excuse for anything, I don’t think it’s a good idea to keep suggesting that it is not known whether or not he knew his victim’s age. The relevant documents are in the public domain. This is what he plead guilty to.

Claire // Posted 2 October 2009 at 3:48 pm

Thanks so much for this last post. I am working on trying to get the BBC to report on the petition mentioned above and this post was very helpful in trying to persuade them that they are not being defamatory in allowing bloggers to call him a rapist. I must add that I have circulated this petition to a lot of my male friends as well as female and the response from men has been at least as good as the response from the women. They all want to see Polanski brought to justice.

Melanie // Posted 2 October 2009 at 3:48 pm

There is still the argument that the original judge was blatantly biased, allegedly colluded with the prosecution, was a member of golf club with a No Jews policy and allegedly used racist and xenophobic language when referring to Polański in private.

Not that that means that it would be wrong for Polański to be tried/sentenced now in a fair, transparent process. And, of course, the real unfairness is that so many rapists get off so leniently, so I can understand people’s lack of sympathy.

But I am disturbed by the number of feminists who think that because Polański is a rapist, it would have been OK for the original judge to pluck a sentence out of the air without considering standard tariffs or legal precedent.

Kit // Posted 2 October 2009 at 4:19 pm

That link is great Lucy, when I saw people suggesting he didn’t know she was 13 I was very confused, it didn’t seem apparent in any of the articles on the case.

I can’t tell what’s going on in the letter included at the end. Is the victim’s lawyer saying they’re happy for the plea bargain because dragging him (and the victim) through the courts for all the other crimes would be (understandibly) damaging for her?

Has anyone else come across the claim that the victim had had sex with her boyfriend that day, suggesting she wasn’t actually raped by polanski? I’ve only seen it in one place, and even the things his defenders have said don’t seem to support that idea (i.e. that it didn’t happen at all). It sounds an awful lot like another victim-blaming excuse/lie to me (like “he didn’t know she was 13”, but wondering if I’m missing something none the less …

dave bones // Posted 2 October 2009 at 4:33 pm

absofuckinlutely. Guy should be in jail.

Jackie Bather // Posted 2 October 2009 at 6:31 pm

I find the argument that he has “suffered so much” disturbing and offensive. The implication is there that all Holocaust victims, because of their acknowledged horrific experiences, are potential child molesters, which is absolutely not the case. Polanski is his own man and needs to be seen as the individual offender he really is.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 2 October 2009 at 7:01 pm

Marcella Chester on her website has an excellent post dissecting in detail the cunning and guile Polanski used to rape the 13 year old girl. Anyone reading Marcella’s post would be in no doubt whatsoever Polanski committed rape and sodomy not ‘sex with underage girl’ as the media persists in saying.

Polanski’s actions are not those of an individual but are common to all male sexual predators who use manipulation and cunning to make it appear the female survivor is the one supposedly ‘consenting’ when in fact she is being deliberately manipulated into a situation wherein she has no way of escaping.

So let’s dismiss claims ’13 year old consented’ because statutory law in the state wherein Polanski committed rape no one under the age of 18 can ‘consent to being sexually penetrated or sodomised.’ Rape is rape is rape irrespective of whether or not male rapist has social power, societal influence or is simply an arrogant, conceited male who thinks he can escape sentencing for his crime of rape.

Mary Tracy9 // Posted 2 October 2009 at 8:16 pm

“moral judgments should not inform artistic verdicts”

Why not?

Lucy // Posted 2 October 2009 at 9:12 pm


I think the details of the victim’s sexual history are covered in her statement (btw, trigger warning, it is HORRIBLE):

And, yes, the victim and her family were not really ready for a trial. They, and their lawyer, seemed to feel, at the time, that the plea bargain was for the best.

@Melanie: have you read the documents i’ve linked to? The workings of the judicial process are pretty open. I don’t think it’s really true to say he was treated unfairly. Marcia Clark made a nice summary of the legal situation here:

lucy // Posted 2 October 2009 at 9:17 pm


Great idea with the petition. Good luck with the BBC. It’s totally baffling when all the relevant info is available online, yet most mainstream media still choose to publish these ill-informed articles. Journalists just aren’t doing their jobs properly :( Hopefully with time the situation can be rectified.

Melanie // Posted 2 October 2009 at 11:51 pm

@ Lucy

Thanks very much for the links. I have read most of documents in The Smoking Gun reference and Marcia Clark’s analysis and yes, I can see that for the most part, his trial was open and transparent and if anything, many of the people dealing with him went out of their way to be lenient. Some really horrifying victim-blaming going on in the psychiatric reports – I’m so glad we’re not in the 70s, now.

I think the issue of the judge acting improperly still stands (my understanding is that, at Polański’s failed bid to have the case dropped a year or two back, the Californian authorities acknowledged that Rittenband had behaved improperly ). But, as Clark points out, Polański could easily have appealed at the time, so you’re right – it doesn’t really mitigate anything.

Valerie // Posted 3 October 2009 at 1:43 am


I really hate living in a world that is so obviously sexist.

If he had drugged and raped a 13 yr old boy, none of this would be an issue and no one would be coming to his rescue.

But because it’s a female he drugged and raped, it doesn’t really count. She is part of the sex class and that’s to be expected.

It really is depressing. I won’t support any of these film makers anymore.

They are bad sexist people.

I can’t believe Kristen Scott Thomas and Tilda Swinton are on the petition list. And Debra Winger.

They really must need male approval badly.

I grew out of that when I was 25. Grow up ladies. Wang worship isn’t healthy.

Do you really think these sexist pigs are going to stick up for you when the chips are down? NO!

And Ethen Coen, I live in MLPS, you are NOT welcome here anymore!


Rob // Posted 3 October 2009 at 2:21 pm

Jackie, I don’t think his defenders were saying that exactly, more pointing towards the conjunction of that and having to deal with the murder and mutilaiton of his wife, unborn child and friends in his own house.

Having said that, there’s no question that Polanski raped and sodomised her, he’s as much as admitted it in the intervening years and, as a public figure, it’s especially important that he isn’t allowed to get away with it. He won’t be convicted of rape since there was never a trial and the victim has made it clear she doesn’t want to stir it up again, but the terms of the plea bargain legally stand don’t they? And absconding to avoid legal punishment’s got to carry a decent-sized sentence.

And I do agree, the fact some of my favourite directors are striving to defend him is incredibly depressing. You’d expect it from Woody Allen and perhaps Lynch but Scorsese? Jonathan Demme? PEDRO ALMADOVAR? It goes to show hollywood will always protect its own first and foremost.

RadFemHedonist // Posted 3 October 2009 at 5:12 pm

It seems quite clear that Roman Polanski did rape that 13 year old, so he should go to jail. Can I please call out whoever used the word sodomy as if it carried some weight as a moral judgement? Sodomy is just a word that religions have used to condemn solo and partnered sexual activity that does not involve vagina-penis sex, being anally penetrated without mutual consent is RAPE, not some special, less terrible because it’s not a sexual part of the body or worse because it’s “depraved” and “unnatural” to do sexual things that involve one’s bum, separate category of violation.

Isa // Posted 3 October 2009 at 7:37 pm

@ Lucy

Thanks for the links

@ Claire

Thanks for posting about the petition, have signed up and am spreading the word. Good luck with the BBC.

It would be fantastic to see some accurate press coverage, if I see the phrase “had sex with” one more time in relation to this case it’s going to drive me beyond mad!

ybawife // Posted 4 October 2009 at 3:12 am

There is no doubt at all that this man is a rapist and child molester…the case is in the pubic domain and one only has to look read the legal accounts and the evidence is overwhelming. Somehow he managed to skip justice and has been on the run ever since….

How many other girls have been abused by him over the past 30 odd years while he has been on the loose being a ‘genius’…..and those who defend him are the typical liberal loveeees of the Hollywood degenerates…shame on them and shame on the media for trying so hard to misrepresent this entire saga….

Aimee // Posted 4 October 2009 at 11:04 am

I’m pretty upset about Terry Gilliam and Natalie Portman. :( WHY!?

Charlie Twist // Posted 5 October 2009 at 2:39 am

Mary Tracy9 said: “moral judgments should not inform artistic verdicts”

“Why not?”

Because plenty of really good people make really shitty art and plenty of really nasty people make really good art. You can be a brilliant artist and be an immoral, horrid human being. In fact the majority of truly exceptional social commentary I see coming about these days comes from people that I’d strangle if put into an elevator with…

However that these people are horrid to be around does not lesson the gift of their art in any way. The finesse is there, the brilliance of placing (in the cases I speak of) such heavily loaded social commentary into images and whether I like the artist or not their work does make me think.

I have no comment on Polanski. I’ve actually somehow managed to not see one damned iota of his work. If he is, as said, guilty then the law should take care of him as such and that is all I have opinion wise.

Melanie // Posted 5 October 2009 at 11:51 am


I’m not sure that it’s true that if he drugged and raped a 13-year-old boy, we wouldn’t be hearing the same depressing arguments, actually. When Michael Jackson was accused of exactly that, there seemed to be plenty of people who were coming out with the “But he’s a great artist!”/”I blame the victim’s parents”/”But look at the miserable childhood he had and, anyway, he’s obviously nuts” arguments. OK, so Jackson was acquitted and is not obviously guilty, like Polański, so there were also good arguments for defending him, but the same stuff as we’re hearing now was still heard.

@ ybawife

Do you have any evidence that he is a repeat offender or that there are other victims?

I’m not saying that he isn’t or there aren’t – he may be, for all I know – and, God knows, raping one 13-year-old is bad enough in its own right.

Unless you know more than you put in your post, however, that does seem to me to be jumping to unwarranted conclusions.

@ Charlie Twist

I totally agree. I don’t, e.g., excuse or overlook the horrible male-centricity and underlying patriarchalism of Harry Potter, just because JK Rowling has said and done some cool feminist things in real life, so I’m not going to dismiss Polański’s work because of what he has said and done outside that work, however repulsive.

@ just about everybody who has said that the Holocaust/ Sharon Tate’s murder was “no excuse”

No, it’s not an excuse and he should definitely face justice for what was a horrendous crime.

But, I don’t think his past can be entirely disregarded.

If this were a story about a woman who had committed a brutal, violent crime while under the influence of post-natal depression/traumatised after escaping from a genocidal regime/traumatised by childhood abuse, I have a feeling a lot of people here would (rightly, in my opinion) have some sympathy for her and would be arguing that she should be sentenced with some leniency. Many people have (rightly, in my opinion) pointed out that Polański’s brutal assault on [edited to remove name ] may well have psychologically damaged her for life.

So I can’t understand why you all seem so determined to argue that the following facts could not possibly have damaged Polański’s psychology enough to have affected his criminal responsibility, even slightly, or act as any form of mitigation: that he was clinically depressed at the time of the crime; that his family have testified that the experience of becoming separated from his parents (aged about 10)and having to fend for himself on the run in Nazi-occupied Poland, where he faced the possibility of discovery and death daily, utterly broke and changed him; that his mother and the unborn child she was carrying were murdered in Birkenau ; that he was once nearly killed himself in a brutal hammer attack by a serial killer in Warsaw; and that his second wife and their unborn child were savagely murdered by the Manson family (which her family attest still deeply affects him to this day).

Yes, what he did on that day in 1977. Yes, he should face justice. Yes, rape is too often trivialised and ignored by the police and by society and victims do not get enough support.

But I’m not a hang ’em and flog ’em Daily Mail reader type when I read about any other crime, so I’m not going to apply a second set of standards for rape and child abuse.

Gina // Posted 5 October 2009 at 12:06 pm

It seems to me that no one (here or in the media storm generally) is taking any notice of what the victim/survivor wants. Same old! As far as I understand it, she has forgiven Polanski (however incomprehensible anyone might find that, it is actually her right to do so if she wants), gone on to live her life and does no way want all this dragged up again. What’s going to happen to her now? Will she be forced to give evidence in court? And if she refuses to do that, will she be put in jail?

There was an F-Word blog post recently, about how Katie Price shouldn’t have to name her rapist if she doesn’t want to, and that how it’s entirely up to her (and every victim of rape) to decide how she wants to deal with what happened. That it’s not a decision for anyone else to make.

Doesn’t that apply here as well?

Shea // Posted 5 October 2009 at 12:27 pm

@ Gina – your totally right, it is the victim’s decision and there should be no pressure on her either way. But in this case Polanski’s victim HAS come forward, HAS testified (her statement is harrowing) and Polanski was convicted, for statutory rape. The fact is he did not serve the full sentence, but absconded to France. That is what angers people, he has never faced justice for what he did, but his victim has had to live with it all of her life, and yet again has her name dragged through the papers.

@ Melanie, I think you are confusing explanation with justification. It might be the case that people sympathise with your post natal killer (although I seriously doubt it- look at Maxine Carr, she was in an abusive r/ship with Ian Huntley and only lied for him, but has been forced to go into hiding because of what happened. People tend to have very little sympathy for women- as victims or as perpetrators or both)), but it wouldn’t justify what she did, or exempt her from paying for her crime.

If we followed this line of reasoning we could excuse most of the prison population who have some kind of trauma and abuse in their background. By all means let the circumstances mitigate what has happened, but don’t let them prevent someone from serving their time, especially in a violent or sexual crime. (I think this is what has happened anyhow- Polanski plea bargained for a much less serious charge, and he didn’t even serve the time on that!)

Kez // Posted 5 October 2009 at 12:32 pm

@Melanie – I certainly haven’t argued that Polanski could not have been damaged by the horrific experiences in his past – I don’t think many other people have argued that, either. I’m sure that, if he faces trial, his legal representation will ensure that any mitigating circumstances are fully presented, and I would hope that all the relevant circumstances would be taken into account in sentencing. As you say, though, he should still face justice. It’s not up to me to say what penalty he should face, but I do think it is important that justice is done and is seen to be done, and that his position and status is not an influencing factor.

@Gina, as I understand it Polanski has admitted his offence. If he pleads guilty, there would be no need for Samantha Gailey to appear at all. She gave a full statement at the time which should still be admissible in court.

I have every sympathy for her and for her desire to get on with her life without having the media endlessly rehashing the sordid details. But while it is up to her to deal with things in whatever way she chooses, it isn’t up to her, and nor should it be, to decide whether Polanski should face trial for his crime. If the media would leave her alone, that would be wonderful, but that’s the responsibility of the media, not the US justice system.

Kristel // Posted 5 October 2009 at 12:35 pm

I agree with Melanie. Also with what Gina says, that no one seems to be taking the victim’s wishes into account.

But Melanie, just one little thing: you wrote her name. I realise it’s been bandied about in the media, but despite that there must still be a lot of people who don’t know her name, and maybe she’d prefer it that way.

Jess McCabe // Posted 5 October 2009 at 12:40 pm

@Kristel Thanks for noting that, I’ve gone back and edited out the name from Melanie’s comment.

Melanie // Posted 5 October 2009 at 12:58 pm


You’re absolutely right. I’m really, really sorry and thanks, Jess, for editing it out.

@Shea and Kez

No, I’m in agreement with you that it’s not justification. I did feel that quite a few people here, though, were arguing that his past was totally irrelevant, couldn’t have affected him at all and should have no bearing on how the US justice system views his case, with which I can’t agree (although his fame and status is, as you say, totally irrelevant).


I agree that women like Maxine Carr are vilified even more than the men they abet by the public in general and that the theoretical cases I used would not have received much sympathy from the public in large (it’s something that makes me very angry, actually). I did feel that they would probably have received more sympathy from people on this particular site than Polański’s getting, though.

Sorry if I was a bit aggressive – I’ve simultaneously been having an argument with some arseholes on another site who think that women wearing sexy clothes are partially responsible for rape, which has not done wonders for my mood!

Harry // Posted 5 October 2009 at 4:38 pm

@Melanie Do you have any evidence that he is a repeat offender or that there are other victims?


1. Nastassja Kinski was only 15 when he began his ‘relationship’ with her.

2. Quote: (On why he was sleeping ONLY with women of unmarriageable age) ‘For fear of betraying Sharon’ [Tate – his murdered wife’s memory]

3. Quote 2: “If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… f—ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”

Anne Onne // Posted 6 October 2009 at 12:21 am

Kristel: It’s hard not to think about the victim. It’s terrible that this has brought attention on the case again. But it can’t have been easy to live with seeing him in the media, an internationally lauded and supported director whose conviction for rape nobody cared about. And especially all the idiotic defenses of why this man should be let off, they must hurt even more. So anyone who has her interests at heart should think before openly declaring that the crime no longer matters.

I feel Melissa McEwan’s post at Shakesville called ‘her reasons are not yours’ sums up the reasons why I feel that most people (not necessarily anyone here, but in general) invoking the ‘think about the victim’ defense of Polanski are doing her an injustice in using her to justify letting him off. I don’t think anyone should take the liberty of suggesting that her words imply what happened to her no longer matters to her, rather that she’s trying hard to cope with the pressure of seeing many famous people speak up to defend her rapist, and that she’s doing what she can to cope.

There are many reasons a survivor of rape forgives her rapist or tries to move on, and I’m not going to second-guess his victim. I hope she has all the support she needs.

Unfortunately, for good or ill, the law does not work on behalf of victims or their families or defendants. It doesn’t matter who forgives who in the case of a serious crime, because charges are not pressed by a person but by the state. As such there are no obligations for the case to be dropped regardless of what the victim says. Indeed in statutory rape cases, prosecutions often occur regardless of whether the (then a child) victim wishes to prosecute or not.

If a convicted rapist is not brought to justice because some people want to let this go, what does that say about us? about the law? That if someone runs long enough they are forgiven a heinous crime? That some crimes don’t deserve a punishment? That convicted rapists are untouchable? That raping a child isn’t a big deal?

There is much I don’t agree with in the UK or US justice system, but above all, I don’t agree that rich or famous criminals or rapists should be given any leniency, not when so many are never brought to court let alone convicted.

Lucy // Posted 6 October 2009 at 8:52 am


sorry to go on, but your original comment suggested that the judge was biased. However, as far as i understand, when Polanski’s team asked for the case to be dropped last year, after that documentary was made, it was to do with the “stage-managing” of the trial, rather than any bias or improper sentencing. It was a technicality. If there is some blog/article where this bias is being discussed, please let me know so i can go and learn about the evidence for such a claim.

Also, where have feminists been suggesting that “it would have been OK for the original judge to pluck a sentence out of the air”? because i can go there and argue with them next ;)

I just feel so powerless in situations like this, where the mainstream media (and lots of non-mainstream media to boot) is talking so much shit. It’s like i want to run around and respond to every article that claims facts remain unknown (“did he know she was 13?”) or makes stuff up (“European culture was just like that”), in the hopes that it will force people into being more responsible journalists in the future :/

Calle // Posted 6 October 2009 at 10:56 am

You really can’t win here, can you? Someone who’s saying think about what the victim wants (without at all trying to second-guess her, as far as I can see) gets accused of defending Polanski and condoning child rape! And never mind the patronising legal lecture!


Jackie Bather // Posted 6 October 2009 at 12:32 pm

Hi Melanie,

I ‘ve read your argument and I do see the points that you are making re: Polanski’s personally traumatic history.The thing is, though, I have never read the ‘Daily Mail’ so have no views on that to offer (I take ‘The Guardian’ myself). As someone who trained and worked in the mental health field in London, I am more than willing to take into account horrific past experiences and their effects.Still, I have also worked with some delightful, honest , intelligent people with integrity, who happened to be mentally ill, at that time in their lives, who would never have considered harming anyone.

Child rapists are in a category of their own, I think. Mind you,I am a parent myself, so maybe that influences my opinions.

Anne Onne // Posted 6 October 2009 at 7:45 pm

@ Calle and Kristel: Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough but I am not accusing anyone here specifically of condoning child rape or defending Polanski, etc.

However, many of these arguments are being used by rape apologists to support the idea that Polanski should never have been arrested, that he should defy all legal precedents, that prosecuting this rape is a waste of time and money, and enforcing a rape culture where rape is a lesser crime and rapists are given more leniency than other people who have committed serious crimes.

As for the ‘patronising legal lecture’, each to their own.

Many influential people are making excuses as to why a convicted child rapist who evaded justice for 30 years whilst growing rich and famous abroad should not serve out a laughably small sentence. The vast majority of people who would like to see this case forgotten are not thinking about the victim (nor should this one case be treated like no other case of its type or against the law), and most of their arguments have nothing to do with her welfare. They are defending someone they feel is above the law because they make nice movies, because the 13 year old must have consented (legal impossibility), because it was her mum’s fault (no, it was not) because he evaded capture so long (let’s reward fugitive criminals?), because some bad things happened to him (they happen to many people, few of which get given an easy ride), because he’s apparently suffered enough by leaving the US (yes, international fame and fortune abroad is SO agonising!) etc.

I respect that your reasons and beliefs are like everyone else’s here : honestly trying find the best of hard choices, with no ill intentions towards the victim. We can disagree whilst respecting that we all believe in equality and ending rape culture, and it’s a topic that we feel strongly about.

Kristel // Posted 7 October 2009 at 1:07 pm

Hi Anne Onne,

Just like to say, I didn’t at all think you were accusing me personally (or anyone here) of condoning child rape or defending Polanski. Or of saying the crime no longer matters. I also don’t think the victim’s words mean the crime no longer matters to her. Like you, I think she’s trying to cope with all this the best way she can, and no, it can’t be easy for her to see all the support Polanski is getting. I respect your arguments and the points you make.

I have now read the ‘her reasons are not yours’ post, thanks for alerting me to it.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds