September 28, 2009


Kammy pointed me pointed me to an excellent article by Kate Harding in Salon. It's a reminder of the inconvenient facts that some people would prefer to forget about Roman Polanski.

Can we do that? Can we take a moment to think about all that, and about the fact that Polanski pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, before we start talking about what a victim he is? Because that would be great, and not nearly enough people seem to be doing it.

Second, Polanski was "demonized by the press" because he raped a child, and was convicted because he pled guilty. He "feared heavy sentencing" because drugging and raping a child is generally frowned upon by the legal system. Shore really wants us to pity him because of these things? (And, I am not making this up, boycott the entire country of Switzerland for arresting him.)

Polanski is in many of the categories of people we want to believe can't commit rape: rich, respected, charming, intelligent. He's also in a few special categories: Holocaust survivor, relative of a Manson Family victim, long-unpunished fugitive. I know that we don't want to associate guilt with any of these categories--but that means nothing more than the fact that we have to work harder to think about what actually happened.

In addition to Harding's reminders, here are a few more:
  • The rich don't commit significantly less crime than any other demographic, and their punishment is generally inversely proportional to their resources rather than directly proportional to the crime's impact on society.
  • Respect is based only on what we know of a person--their public side.
  • Charm is an excellent way of getting what you want, which people can get very used to.
  • Intelligence is much like charm in this respect.
  • Victimhood does not keep people from victimizing others. In fact, it increases the chances. However, the vast majority of victims manage not to drug people they want to have sex with or ignore them when they say, "No."
  • There are many people who helped Polanski comfortably escape custody this long, many people who worked with him in places where he could not be extradited. This tells us something about them and the accommodations they've made, but it tells us nothing about the rape.
But enough of me. Go read Harding.


Philip H. said...

The more I htink about this, the more . . . emotionally mixed up I become. On the one hand, this person (I hate to use the term man) committed a serious crime, for which he was tried and convicted. He fled rather then face sentence. He's made movies (and millions) since.

And yet his victim -who appears to have done an admirable job of picking up her collective peices and moving on - says she sees no point in jailing him now. His whereabouts have never been secret, and he has been cut off from at least some countries and some opportunities because he knew he'd be arrested.

So what do we do with him? The conviciton is still valid, the warrant still good. The perpetrator is now 76, and I would argue that our need for his pound of flesh - very appropriate as it is - may do no one any good at this late date. So, what do we do?

Stephanie Zvan said...

Not quite. Polanski pled guilty to a lesser charge, then fled when he thought he might be sentenced to more than his 42 days served. He's been living in a country that doesn't extradite to the U.S. for this crime. Several times, when he's announced plans to travel to country that does extradite, the extradition process has been started, only to be canceled when Polanski decided to to travel. That only covers announced travel, for award ceremonies and the like.

To reiterate, he wasn't denied travel and opportunity because he knew he'd be arrested. He was denied them because he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl then fled instead of taking responsibility for it.

As for his age, well, that was Polanski's choice, wasn't it? He could have served his time in his forties. He's decently hale and significantly younger than Demjanjuk was when he was deported for his crimes. He's not in hospice care; he's living with his much-younger model-actress wife and making movies. If Polanski did the same thing now, would you hesitate to lock him up?

We do the same thing to him we would have done had he been caught on his way out of the country. His successful flouting of the law for three decades doesn't change that law in any way. And we stop asking the victim to take responsibility for Polanski's fate. That's all his. He bought it. He can pay for it.

Philip H. said...

I know Polanski did something aweful - and he was tried, and pled guilty for it. But at this late stage, when even his vicitm has said publically she doesn't see the point - what good does it serve to haul him back here? Is there a compelling American interest in seeing him in Jailhouse orange? That's the question that I htink needs asking. Sure, France would never have extradited him - I htink the French get too hands offon a lot of things - but he hasn't exactly been a fugative.

Look, all I'm saying is sometimes, even if the perpetrator has been able to succeed economically, we should just settle for the guilty plea and walk away. I don't say that because of what he did - I say that because it makes far more sense (given all the circumstances) then not.

And while we're at it, if we'r egoing to do him in for one rape - lets make sure we do in all those responsible for torture in Iraq. Lets also make sure eveyother rapist goes to jail and serves a full sentence. Let's not make an example of Mr. Polanski just because he's famous, or we can. To do so is to seek revenge, not to seek punishment and restitution.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Polanski has exactly been a fugitive. What would make him not a fugitive?

And yes, of course we should prosecute other rapes. Why wouldn't we? Sentencing, as in Polanski's case, should be in the courts' hands.

You do understand that you're the one arguing for nonstandard treatment of a fugitive, yes? When the U.S. discovers that a fugitive is eligible for extradition, they extradite. The cases where they don't generally involve people serving time in another country for another crime, in which case, we're pretty happy to let the other country bear the cost of incarceration for as long as they're willing to keep the criminal locked up. Then we extradite.

Philip H. said...


What I'm arguing for is the assessment of the whole picture. If he was that bad we could have just snatched him from France years ago - we've done it to lots of other criminals, as well as a whole host of people considered enemies but who have had significantly less judicial process then Mr. Polanski.

And as to rapists, I was simply referring to the fact that many rapists, even when caught and sentenced, do not serve significant time, nor does the threat of sentencing deter them or others from the crime of rape. Fugative or not, I fail to see how incarcerating Mr. Polanski, especially after this long a time, will do anything other then satisfy a societal need for revenge. If that's the reason this is being done, fine - but let's be explicit about it shall we?

D. C. said...

Philip, is there any more point to imprisoning Bernie Madoff? After all, he's also old and the money, one way or another, isn't going to be gotten back by having him serve his 150-year sentence.

It sure looks to me as though your argument applies at least as much to him as to Polanski.

Kammy said...

"Look, all I'm saying is sometimes, even if the perpetrator has been able to succeed economically, we should just settle for the guilty plea and walk away."

What guidelines do you propose for when we should settle for the plea and walk away? Why bother with the plea or the charge for that matter if we're not going to make the best effort possible to impose the sentence.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Phil, you're arguing that the only people we should extradite are the ones we're willing to go to war over? That's what we'd have been risking if we'd kidnapped Polanski, and there was no other way to get him.

And you do understand that there is a second crime here, right? Flight is not a minor offense under U.S. law, which is why it doesn't have a statute of limitations. Nor does it just apply in cases of rape.

Heather M. Rosa said...

I can't help noticing it's a guy pushing for just ignoring the whole extradition process,though only Phillip can know if that's relevant.

I must admit, if this had been a borderline case of statutory rape only, I might agree. (Say, for example, a 19-year-old with a 17-year-old girlfriend.) But 13 is not borderline age of consent, and compounding it with drugs and alcohol makes it very clear in my mind that he should be extradited and face his punishment. Then, I personally would add a few years for fleeing if I were the judge.

Whether or not this punishment stops him from ever offending this way or not is not for us to know. Nobody who passes sentence is clairvoyant, far as I know. The point of imprisonment is to keep the offender away from society in order to enforce, for some period of time, that s/he not re-offend. Possibly they might learn to avoid repeating the crime. Allowing him to avoid extradition is just a way of encouraging others to flee punishment, and to state that, after all, one 13-year-old is not so important after all. Not like a famous rich movie-maker.

The fact that she has picked up her pieces is admirable, but the real problem is that she has HAD to do so. If she can forgive him, then kudos for her. That does in no way negate his need to be held accountable, for society, for him, for her, and for the next 13-year-old. His continuing to avoid his punishment means that the world has been unable to move on, and that means his victim has been unable truly to move on. By now, we know her name, and for that alone she is continuing to be victimized by him. The news stories won't stop until he does his time.

Dan J said...

When Philip H. asked, "Is there a compelling American interest in seeing him in Jailhouse orange?", I decided I'd finally weigh in on this one.

I enjoy some of Polanski's film work. I think Polanski is a child molester. In understand why he fled. Understanding it doesn't mean I condone it.

What's the compelling interest? Justice. I see very little true justice in our legal system in the US. It would be nice to finally see justice done in this case.

I don't think we have anything to gain from his imprisonment except perhaps a sense that justice was finally done. To not attempt extradition when we have the opportunity is, in essence, condoning his flight from justice.

Philip H. said...

So, then, we're back to the American "Justice System" is really all about retribution? I ask, because I just want to be clear where we are coming from. Those of us who identify with the liberal political view have long, at least as a collective group, gone around and said prison doesn't work in alot of cases because it's either too harsh for the crime, or doesn't offer any hope of (or mechanism for) rehabilitation.

Yet here, there is very little evidence of a need for rehabilitation - so far as i can determine from the internet, Mr. Polanski has never had sex with anyone else onderage since his guilty plea. So he's not a repaeaat sex offender - at leasat as far as we know.

Which means that the "justice" Dan J refers to is really retribution in disguise. And I hate disguises. I loathe beating around the bush. But no one here (or elsewhere) will come out and say that this is all we're after.

It's also not like Mr. Polanski has escaped shame simply by fleeing to another country. Now nes story - even the ones about his films and his Oscar, escapes reminder of his crime. he is shamed in the media each and every time his name comes up. Is that not also a punishment?

Finally, I am both amused and saddened by D.C.'s introduction of Bernie Maddoff into this discussion. Its a nice, fat, red herring. As I see it, Mr. Polanski committed a single crime of severe proportion with a single victim. Mr. Maddoff committed hundreds of crimes of severe proportion with hundreds, if not thousands of vicitms. The moral equivalency just isn't there.

Stephanie Zvan said...

No, Phil. The American justice system is about depersonalizing the whole thing in an attempt for justice rather than retribution. This is just how it works.

You're the one trying to make an exception for Polanski, and you haven't given any reasons for that except that you don't like how people seem to feel about the guy. I agree that there's quite a bit of venom in the air, although some of it is a reaction to people who keep indulging in apologetics for the guy. However, the way to keep all the emotions from fucking this up is to let the big, clunky, impersonal system handle it. It isn't for you or anyone else to say, "Oh, well, he's old," or "That old crime?"

The system contains elements of retribution, recompense, rehabilitation and deterrence. It's human. It's complicated. Get over it. It's still a hell of a lot better than mob rule or an individual being able to say, "I like that guy. He'll live. You? Not so much." Those are where we head when you argue for the arbitrary.

Dan J said...

Rehabilitation? I had to laugh at that. Does anyone actually think that the penal system (the justice system determines guilt or innocence, if guilty you go to the penal system for your penalty phase) in the US has anything to do with rehabilitation?

It may include a bit of that at some points, but other reasons take precedence: Retribution, deterrence, denunciation, incapacitation, and then maybe some rehabilitation.

I don't care who he is. If there were judicial improprieties, he (unlike most people) had access to powerful attorneys who should have been able to help him at the time. His flight does not reflect well on his claims, true or not.

He's had thirty years to make any legal challenges he or his attorneys thought appropriate. Where were they? It's time for him to face his penalty for the crime he committed.

Irene said...

What saddens me is that so many people (either blaming or excusing Polanski, btw) discuss the case as if they knew exactly what happened before, during and after. Hey, who needs a trial system when we can decide inside our heads and pick on the Net whatever we need to confirm our theory?

And I wonder why Philip doesn't like to use the term man to describe Polanski, even when he can bring himself to see the point in condemning him now. Yes, he's still a human being, not a character in a puppet play of crime and retribution. A human being who very probably did a very disgusting act, and who acted very foolishly afterwards.

Oh, and don't mistake me: I'm not saying we should have pity of his grey hair or whatever. If he can be legally and fairly judged, it's all to the good.

But sadly, it looks to me like a lot of people are less interested in truth and justice than in dealing punishment to a perp who commited one of the truly unforgivable crimes in any judiciary systems: making that system hunt him in vain for a long, long time. You don't want to come to trial when you've spent 30 years pissing off the people who are going to judge you.

Dan J said...

You don't want to come to trial when you've spent 30 years pissing off the people who are going to judge you.

That's just it: He's already been judged. He pled guilty to a lesser charge in order to avoid a lengthy term of incarceration. Before he was sentenced, he fled the country. He's already guilty in a legally binding sense, and he has been for over thirty years.