Sometimes it’s easier to get your head around a distant controversy if you personalize it. So engage in a little thought experiment with me: You have a daughter or niece or sister who was raped by a wealthy, powerful and glamorous 43-year-old man when she was just 13.
He says the sex was “consensual,” but he had plied her with champagne and drugs before he took advantage of her. In any event, she was a child whom the law regards as too immature to “consent” to sexual intercourse. Would you want that man to be held to account for his crimes, although the episode occurred some three decades ago?
You’d want justice. Indeed, it shouldn’t matter whether the child was someone you knew. Criminals should be forced to pay for their crimes, especially those as ugly and predatory as this.
So the arrest last week of Roman Polanski, who fled the United States in 1978, after he pled guilty to having sex with a minor, may lead, finally, to a satisfactory resolution of the case. Polanski has escaped punishment for his crime, continuing his career to accolades while living, mostly, in France.
A celebrated film director who won the Best Director Oscar for “The Pianist” in 2003, he maintains legions of defenders, including French officials, the arbiters of fine art and the haut monde of urban enclaves here and abroad. Even the victim, Samantha Gailey Geimer, now 45, says she has forgiven him.
When “Pianist” generated Oscar buzz, Geimer wrote an essay in the Los Angeles Times, arguing that the assault shouldn’t be a consideration. “I believe that Mr. Polanski and his film should be honored according to the quality of the work . . .I don’t think it would be fair to take past events into consideration,” she wrote.
French authorities, who had refused to extradite him, seem to believe that Polanski’s flight was perfectly excusable because he was the victim of American prudishness. Well, perhaps the French have no problem with sex between young girls and middle-aged men, but I suspect there are lots of French parents who would object if their daughters ended up in the same circumstances.
This was no episode of mere touching, no case of simple nudity and fondling. Polanski persuaded the girl to take off her clothes in a ruse about a photo shoot for a fashion magazine. Then, he engaged in anal intercourse with her, among other acts. Shortly thereafter, she reported to authorities that she had told him to stop but that she had not forcefully resisted because she was afraid of him.
It’s important for Polanski to face the bar of justice, even thirty years late. His appearance would serve as an example to others among the wealthy and glamorous that they are not above the law. Neither money, fame, connections nor artistic achievement should excuse you from facing up to your crimes. Forcing Polanski into court, in a case which will receive lots of media attention, might also stiffen the resolve of other victims of sexual violence who are trying to find the courage to face their abusers.
It is remarkable, given the nature of Polanski’s crime, that prosecutors originally agreed to a plea bargain in which he would have served no more than 42 days in jail. Plenty of teenaged boys have received far harsher sentences for having consensual sex with girls just slightly younger than they. The director fled because he believed the judge would not honor the agreement; Polanski’s defenders have since alleged judicial misconduct.
Let Polanski make his case in a Los Angeles courtroom. Let him come back to the scene of the crime. No matter how long ago the assault, no matter his old age, he still hasn’t paid his dues. After decades in which American jurisprudence has come to treat sexual crimes against women and girls more seriously, let him argue that he shouldn’t have to spend any more time behind bars.