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Category: Art and Entertainment, Violence against Women

What Consequences Should Roman Polanski Face After 32 Years?

| October 2, 2009

The author, a rape survivor, takes a clear-eyed view of the Polanski case, sorting out both the needs of his victim and those of a society that cannot afford to tolerate sexual violence.

I understand why Roman Polanski's rape victim wants the rape she reported in 1977 to now be quickly resolved in the courts with no threat of prison time. I would too if I were in her position since I'd be worried about what new and upsetting twist this case might take and what impact that would have on me and those around me. As a rape survivor dedicated to accountability, I believe strongly that her opinion and her lived experience related to this case are vitally important and must be considered. But it cannot be the only consideration.

She was and is an innocent victim of a heinous, violent crime. He was not and is not the victim in this case since his criminal choices caused any suffering he has endured related to this case. Yet some, including Polanski himself, seem interested in obscuring this core reality through PR and legal maneuvering that if successful would allow him to claim to be guilty of no crime at all. Those who view his prior horrific experiences with overwhelming violence (the Holocaust, the murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate) as a reason he should be cleared unfortunately only advance continuing cycles of violence. "What I endured is worse than what I did to others," should never be a valid criminal defense unless the violence is done in self-defense.

Before I get to the heart of that issue I must address those who fail to acknowledge Polanski's victim as a rape victim who, at age 13, did not in any way consent to or deserve what Polanski did to her.

"She wasn’t a virgin," or "she looked older," or "her mother let her go with him," are not valid defenses for rape. Those who focus their judgment on this girl or her family are expressing conditional approval of rape. Rather than proving his innocence these types of statements approve of and excuse his guilt.

Some people incorrectly view an absence of screaming or stereotypical physical resistance as exonerating evidence of non-statutory charges. This view is based on ignorance and entitlement, not evidence. Those targeted by non-strangers are often dealing with deliberate strategies that misuse some of our best qualities—such as a girl wanting to be a good novice model who does her best to help a respected professional get the shots he needs for a major magazine rather than acting like a spoiled brat, seemingly incapable of following instructions.

The support Polanski has gotten from so many in the Hollywood and global film community highlights how tough it is for any community to face sexual violence committed by those they otherwise respect. When other communities go into denial it is easy to be smug, but it isn't just their problem. It is our problem. No community, group or organization is immune. Until we have a pervasive understanding that those who commit sexual violence can also have genuinely great qualities, sexual violence will continue to be endemic.

Because the plea deal involved the dropping of all non-statutory offenses, many people incorrectly call this a statutory rape case (or deny that it is a "rape rape") in the name of accuracy. It was and is a rape case. This isn't just about following one victim's preference. It's common for prosecutors to negotiate plea deals even when their cases are strong. It happens for a variety of reasons including sparing victims the trauma of a trial. A burglary and sexual assault case might end with a guilty plea to only the burglary charge, but that doesn't make the crime committed nothing more than a burglary.

For the sake of public safety and accountability, I believe Polanski cannot merely have his case closed and his record cleared. He must face the full legal punishment for jumping bail and refusing to face the legal consequences of his actions. His rape victim should have no input on this particular charge since it wasn't a crime against her but against our system of law.

A compromise between giving Polanski a lengthy prison sentence for the charge he pleaded guilty to and having the charge simply disappear would be for Polanski to volunteer to change his plea deal so that he pleads guilty to all of the original non-statutory charges in exchange for paying a fine large enough to cover all the governmental costs of his case since 1977 and a suspended prison term that he would serve if he ever reoffends.

One of his victim's family's goals in pursuing this case was, according to a letter from her attorney, to seek "the admission by him of wrongdoing and commencement by him, under the supervision of the court, of a program to ensure complete rehabilitation." Right now his legal team is working directly against this goal.

If Polanski is as admirable as his friends claim he is then this goal should be his own as well.