Crime, punishment and the nuances of child rape: Only Connect

// 30 September 2013

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Content note: child abuse, sexual assault, victim blaming

by devon buchanan.jpg Dear Victoria,

When I saw that many people I follow on Twitter were full of rage directed at you on Sunday morning, my heart sank. “Not Victoria Coren Mitchell”, I thought. “Please don’t let her have said something unconscionable that will float into my mind every time I see her being awesome on Only Connect and make me too angry to solve the wall”. (I never solve the wall).

But, as it turned out, you had said something that pushed a lot of my buttons. Something that needed me to summon up a lot of will to keep reading. In fact, Victoria, it was a connection you made.

The connection was between Roman Polanski drugging and anally raping a child, and his horrific past. Yes. Polanski’s parents died in the Holocaust and his wife was murdered. Yes it is incredibly likely that these experiences damaged a man who, yes, is a deeply gifted writer and director.

But you know what? Most people who do dreadful things to people are damaged. There’s not some secret cabal of “proper baddies” who commit crime because it’s bred into them, and then a group of tragic anti heroes whose crimes are a symptom of their pain and should therefore be excused.

Try and find the connection between these four:

  • Myra Hindley.

  • George Zimmerman
  • Ariel Castro
  • Roman Polanski

Tough one, isn’t it? All indicted for crimes? No, sorry, try again.

All had tough childhoods? Perhaps, but I can’t give you the points for that alone.

All did serious harm to young people they had the advantage over? Yes. That’s the connection.

The really obvious connection.

Here’s another group for you;

  • Kim Phuk

  • Elie Wiesel
  • Nelson Mandela
  • Roman Polanski.

All accused of rape? No.

All survivors of atrocities? There you go.

And yes, you’ve spotted it, the link between the first group and the second group is Polanski. Your immense and highly rational brain knows better than to conflate correlation and causation, especially in an exception to the rule. Come on Victoria, you can do better than that.

But what about the nuance, you ask? Of COURSE there’s nuance. Kidnapping and holding hostage 3 women, for many years, is not Polanski’s crime. Neither is murdering children. The fact that there are, arguably, WORSE CRIMES than drugging and raping a thirteen year old (hey, he didn’t kill her!!) isn’t relevant here, because the nuance you’re talking about is already so far up the continuum of awful that, when we are talking about a man who has evaded arrest and maintained his position of prestige, it ceases to matter.

The nuance of Polanski’s crime would be a relevant discussion had he stood trial, admitted guilt and served some punishment. His creative output would be poignant, even admirable, if he was doing it having formally paid for his crime. As it is, he’s made millions from his illustrious film career, living not as a penniless fugitive but as a lauded and wealthy artist, beyond the reach of the law. It’s not penance if you profit by it.

You also raise the fact that the girl who was raped, Samantha Geimer, has stated that she made a mistake by accepting alcohol and drugs from Polanski and has rejected assertions that she is blaming herself unfairly.

My personal opinion is that this woman has chosen the solace of the idea, however false, that she had some agency in the situation. That a powerful and respected adult hadn’t gained her mother’s trust, groomed her, rendered her incapable and attacked her in the most humiliating and invasive way imaginable. Because if she could have done something then she wasn’t powerless. It’s an understandable urge.

But that is only my opinion. Here is the fact: It is not her job to apportion that blame. She has attested to what happened, and named it as rape in every sense of the word.

It doesn’t matter if she thinks Roman Polanski should be forgiven. He committed a crime and has evaded arrest. It’s out of her hands.

And until Polanski is arrested and tried for his crime, the nuanced argument you’re looking for will be forever overshadowed by the fact that our society continues to praise and honour a man who anally raped a child.

The reasons for crime have always been complex and nuanced. Myra, Ariel and George could have told you that. But adults, even when profoundly damaged, have agency. They can choose how to behave. Nobody, least of all a child, can choose whether or not to be assaulted. There is no nuance that renders that less true.

[The image is a photograph of a brick wall with the words “Women deserve better” written on it. It was taken by Devon Buchanan and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

Loveandp0ison // Posted 30 September 2013 at 8:49 pm

Thanks for writing this. Great piece.

The Goldfish // Posted 1 October 2013 at 8:48 am

This is really excellent. There’s been a lot written about this over the last few days, but this is the best I’ve read.

The only point I’d raise is that there’s a difference – and a very important one – between a person having some agency in the decisions they make and a person being in any way to blame for their rape. You don’t put it as explicitly as Victoria Coren Mitchell does, but from the extracts she quoted, all I saw was a woman stating that some of the things she did as a thirteen year old (things she did have some choice about, however diminished by circumstances and adult influence) were “stupid”. I don’t see that as self-blame, because there’s no stupid thing a thirteen year old or anyone can do that makes them partly responsible if they are raped, and Geimer doesn’t suggest as much.

Tim Spring // Posted 4 October 2013 at 10:11 am

I am an admirer of VCM and I respect and often agree with the views she expresses. I am a middle-aged, white, Anglo-Saxon male. I do not see myself as a feminist nor as an ally of feminists. But, on this matter, I do completely endorse the views expressed by Sarah Thomasin.

On this subject – the rape of a girl child – I simply cannot see anything in the argument that VCM puts forward and I completely endorse Sarah Thomasin’s response, with these additional comments.

First, the additional aggravating factor in the Polanski case, which so far as I am aware did not apply in the other three cases that Sarah cited (Hindley, Zimmerman and Castro), is that Polanski had been entrusted with the care of the victim by her mother; he was in the practical (if not legal) sense ‘in loco parentis’.

Second, the moral position that Sarah states, in my opinion, is not or should not be seen as a characteristically ‘feminist’ view but the position that should be taken by all right-thinking people. I don’t need to be a feminist or a feminist ally to find rape, particularly child rape, abhorrent.

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