Raping children is wrong

That’s one of those examples we might use when we need an example of a really obvious moral truth, right? Apparently, however, we should be careful to add “unless you’re a famous director”.

Kate Harding sets things out beautifully.

Roman Polanski raped a child. Let’s just start right there, because that’s the detail that tends to get neglected when we start discussing whether it was fair for the bail-jumping director to be arrested at age 76, after 32 years in “exile” (which in this case means owning multiple homes in Europe, continuing to work as a director, marrying and fathering two children, even winning an Oscar, but never — poor baby — being able to return to the U.S.). Let’s keep in mind that Roman Polanski gave a 13-year-old girl a Quaalude and champagne, then raped her, before we start discussing whether the victim looked older than her 13 years, or that she now says she’d rather not see him prosecuted because she can’t stand the media attention. Before we discuss how awesome his movies are or what the now-deceased judge did wrong at his trial, let’s take a moment to recall that according to the victim’s grand jury testimony, Roman Polanski instructed her to get into a jacuzzi naked, refused to take her home when she begged to go, began kissing her even though she said no and asked him to stop; performed cunnilingus on her as she said no and asked him to stop; put his penis in her vagina as she said no and asked him to stop; asked if he could penetrate her anally, to which she replied, “No,” then went ahead and did it anyway, until he had an orgasm.

Drugging and raping a child, then leaving the country before you can be sentenced for it, is behavior our society should not tolerate, no matter how famous, wealthy or well-connected you are

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.

Reader Cait points us to these particularly egregious examples of the widespread child-rapist-defending going on. One about how the girl “seduced’ him. The other a petition for his release.

51 thoughts on “Raping children is wrong

  1. When I heard about this story on the local TV news, I remember having to mentally double-take — the reporter spent so much time talking about the extradition and the potential impact on Polanski’s career that I very nearly forgot that it was for the rape of a child. Though I had to come here for any further details.

  2. So wrong wrong wrong! A 13 year old child CANNOT “consent” to sexual activity with an adult (and famous) male – with or without alcohol and drugs. Wrong wrong wrong to call him the victim.

  3. The perspective of Richard Brody, The New Yorker film blogger, who takes account of both the Harding piece and the unusual legal history of the case, might be of interest:

    “Since fleeing to France in 1978, Polanski has done what the court could only wish every convict on probation would do: he has kept out of trouble, been gainfully employed, been devoted to his family, been a respected member of the community, made a contribution to society. (Sure, he had the benefit of exceptional resources and connections, but only because, to begin with, he demonstrated exceptional talents.) His life in the last thirty-one years has proven the plea bargain that had been negotiated, requiring no further jail time, to have been entirely justified. Polanski has been rehabilitated. And saying so doesn’t lessen my revulsion at the acts for which he was prosecuted.”

  4. RE the Brody argument: It *may* be relevant that Polanski has lived the life of a reformed man (assuming he has) since the event: but that still doesn’t change the fact that the correct forum for determining whether this is relevant, and what impact it should have, is a court of law. Not the court of celebrity.

  5. alright, well, i’m going to step into this fire and say that i think it’s wrong.

    i think it’s wrong to make an example of someone 32 odd years after the fact. i think it’s unfair to the victim’s wishes; can we say media rape? i think it’s unfair to her family and i think she has a right, just like polanski, to want to move on. the law likes to make things black and white; they are not that way in reality.

    i also think that all this attention– and the money that goes along with it– should be directed towards the *meaningful* prosecution of current perpetrators and therapy for their victims. child rape is a huge, worldwide issue. it’s too bad people only pay attention when someone famous happens to be involved.

  6. While I agree that Polanski’s talent doesn’t excuse anything, I’m not sure what extraditing and prosecuting him is supposed to accomplish (unless, I suppose, your idea of justice is largely centered around retribution). Whether or not there are objectively good reasons for going after Polanski, it isn’t hard to see why many Europeans see some puritanical or vindictive impulse in the way we Americans have gone about this.

  7. I believe that 32 years later the victim’s wishes should be primary consideration, since Polanski doesn’t seem to be a future threat to society. Time and context make a difference. My opinion would be different if it were 5 years later rather than 32. The U.S. public response seems sensationalized, I wish this much outrage were displayed against factors contributing to rape, one of which being misogyny in the media (and in society) and the sexualization of young girls. I mean, if you look objectively at U.S. popular culture, is anyone surprised that rape/child rape is a problem. I’m interested in the responses on Feminist Philosophers since debate is often more nuanced here than other feminist forums. It feels risky to say as a feminist that I think pursuing Polanski at this point is a waste of resources.

  8. I object to the emphasis on Polanski’s raping “a child.” Childhood is a cultural construct, and I don’t think this case is about her being a child. If she had consented and he had been arrested for having sex with a minor, then her status as a child might be relevant. But the fact is he raped her, and we should be angry about that. Emphasizing that he raped a child sends the message that it wouldn’t be so bad if she was a grown woman (or a man).

  9. What Polanski did was horrible, but 32 years have passed, half a life-time. Is Polanski today the man who committed the crime? I often read cases of people who are executed for a crime that they committed 20 or 25 years ago, and besides the usual arguments against capital punishment, I wonder if they are really punishing the person who committed the crime.
    Am I still responsible for what I did or said 32 years ago?

  10. Michelle: Yes I went back and forth a bit on whether to phrase it that way, for that very reason. But I wanted to make the point that the action people are being so forgiving of is precisely the sort that is widely believe to be the most morally repugnant. I think that people are wrong to think raping adults is somehow less bad than raping children. But people do think this.

    Those who think we should move on: Well, I do agree that Polanski himself is not, in some sense, all that important an issue for feminists. But I think not minimising rape is an important issue for feminists and that many of his apologists are doing just that. And I think that adherents to the rule of law should want to see him prosecuted, even this long after the fact. (I don’t think unjust laws should be adhered to, but the law under which Polanski was tried was not unjust.)

  11. so, the morally-legally superior position from a feminist perspective is to violate the victim’s rights twice?? you must be joking. the rule of law isn’t always what should be sought. 8 years of bush’s abuse of the law should have taught everyone that, already.

  12. Bush was in constant violation of the rule of law, so I’m not really sure what you’re getting at with that.

    As to the victim: I don’t think her rights are violated by prosecuting against her wishes. But I do agree that the thought of putting her through more hell is a terrible one and a very legitimate concern- probably the only legitimate reason that’s been introduced for letting him off.

    I do agree very strongly with your point that other rapes should get far more attention than they do. But I don’t think letting people get away with saying e.g. that it wasn’t really rape because she looked older than 13 will help with that. I think that very much hurts the cause. Hence my interest in the matter.

  13. bush re-created the law so that he was *not* in violation of the law.

    as to the victim: we disagree.

    and i said nothing about letting anyone get away with anything. i don’t think the law or the arguments so far put forth in this discussion sufficiently capture the situation or the actual nuances of morality involved.

  14. The law’s purpose is not only personal redress of wrongs, it serves to keep us together by making justice possible. Releasing Polanski would send the message that the rich, famous and powerful can get away with anything and that the others just have to take it. It would foster cynicism and make it much harder for other victims to seek justice. That kind of injustice happens too often already, let’s not encourage it by releasing this… person (if I use what I really want that post will be banned).

  15. I agree, Laurent. And from what I know about sexual offenders, she was probably not the only one victimized….and that was probably not the most recent offense….and if something is not done about it, there will be others in his future.

  16. well, then the law should have been used to bring bush to justice *years* ago. the rich and powerful don’t need messages sent to them: they send the messages to us, which is why we are talking about this and they go about doing as they please.

    there are so many practical issues involved in justice for rape victims; cynicism has very little to do with any of it. try the fact that the laws are made by men, enforced by men, and normally invoked against men. then look at the economic position of women and children throughout the world. it is easy to see how the system breaks down at every step of the way to the detriment of its female victims.

    i’m sorry, i just don’t understand why people worry about obscure, famous cases instead of mindfully pursing justice and equality within their own homes, communities, and countries.

  17. I’ve been puzzling about this for a couple of days now; even though I agree with just about everything the pro-arrest people are saying, I have something like a bad feeling about it. One thing one has to worry about is that such bad feelings come from thoughts one doesn’t want to endorse, like “but he’s such a great artist, you can’t…”. So after some thought, i’d like just to mention some problems, some of which are close to (or = to) reel aesthete’s. Let me say, first, though that I am not in favor of arguing for just letting him off because of what he has done/how he has changed.
    1. I’m not getting the appeal to the law, and the idea that he shouldn’t run away because the courts decide these things. What worries me is that if I have a friend performig abortions in a state where that’s against the law, I’d hope I’d have the courage to help her. I’m certain I wouldn’t report her, or sugges the courts should decide anything. So what’s the real principle being invoked? I feel uneasy over finding that I strongly support following just the laws I approve of.
    2. Relatedly, does the thought that the law is right just negate acting on the worry that one won’t get a fair trial?
    3. How do we know officially that he did it? Why did he confess? Was he justified in regarding himself as being in effect tricked into confessing. If so, he might well have a case that his confession is inadmissible, but what are the chances that a jury could just put it aside?
    4. The prosecution of this case has been completely awful, and I don’t like the idea that if one commits a crime the prosecution can happily play around for decades and then suddenly burst into the life one has built.
    5. And burst into the victim’s life against her wishes.

  18. Is Polanski getting away with it because he’s rich and famous or is the law harder on him because he’s rich and famous. Let’s say that I, a nobody, had raped a girl 32 years ago and fled to Brazil? Would anyone still remember the case? Wouldn’t the file on my case be gathering dust in a forgotten corner of a prosecutor’s office?

  19. i promise i’ll stop posting on this issue after this comment, but being a great anything– artist, politician, doctor, priest– doesn’t excuse you for having a terrible personal morals. i don’t care how much you contribute when you’re getting paid, you have a duty to be a decent human being off the clock, too.

  20. I feel like I’m missing something here. Is there some real reason to worry about his guilt? The only ones I’ve heard are non-starters like “she looked older”.

  21. Jender, could you say why you are certain he is? Is there legally conclusive evidence? Would you include his confession in the evidence?

    I’m worried about the confession, since there are too many quite possibly innocent people on death row who confessed under the impression they’d have a plea deal.

  22. I had actually forgotten that his 8.5 months pregnant wife was slaughtered by the Charles Manson tribe in 1969.
    I guess that would render me mad if such a thing would happen to me. But then still, where is the distinction between madness and badness? And what does it mean?

  23. I just spent the last hour reading what I could find of things like the grand jury testimony, the confession, and so on. It’s pretty awful.

    Her (the young girl’s) testimony seems extremely rehearsed, which I suppose one should expect. E.g., she says he had three pieces that seemed to add up to one pill. When asked she repeats the brand name and number on the pill, though she has only had that sort of pill once a number of years ago. It’s also hard to believe her clinical description of the sexual actions was not pretty well rehearsed.

    I don’t think her testimony is false, but her grand jury testimony shouldn’t be evidence at a trial, I am supposing. My worries, such as they are, are about what legally admissible evidence we have.

    The reason why that worries me is that I’m not happy insisting on higher evidence for people with whom I’m sympathetic. And I’m inclined to think that there are innocent people on death row because of comparable evidence.

  24. I’m not *certain* of his guilt. But it seems reasonable to have one’s default view be that a trial was fair, unless there are serious reasons for doubt. Polanski was clearly able to afford the best representation, he wasn’t a member of a group for whom guilt tends to be assumed, etc. Which means I’d need to have some specific reason for doubt. Also, there have been later interviews in which he’s talked about how much he likes to fuck teenagers and how really everyone wants to do that. Which seems to me to lend support to the idea that he’s guilty. I don’t feel like I’m insisting on a higher degree of evidence than usual for innocence– I feel like I’m using the normal one and his defenders are using a much higher threshold than normal for proving guilt (e.g. “are you *certain*?” which isn’t the normal standard).

    I’m so glad one can have this sort of discussion on this blog, by the way!

  25. I’m thinking one wouldn’t want to generally doubt all guilty verdicts simply because some are doubtworthy. And the same holds even if *many* are doubtworthy, which I think is true. I too am very suspicious of the guilty verdicts for many of those on death row, but that’s because I know poor people and non-whites are far less likely than well-off whites to get a fair trial. I doubt other guilty verdicts too, but only when given very specific reasons.

    Of course it’s a further move from “perhaps an unfair trial” to “he should be allowed to flee the country rather than using the courts to fight his case”.

  26. It is good that we can tolerate discussion even of volatile topics like this.

    Was there a guilty verdict? There wasn’t any jury and I think only juries issue verdicts. In any case, I don’t systematically doubt guilty verdicts. I’m worried about guilty pleas that are motivated by some sort of reward, even if the reward is a negative one of lesser charges and expected lesser sentence.

    I’m happy with the argument “in a crime of this nature, extradiction is always right,” or some such. I’m less happy with the argument, “he should be extradicted since he is guilty.”

    If you live in Texas, it’s hard not to have such worries about the source of pleas and the quality of evidence continually made salient, and it isn’t only the poor who can be railroaded, though the statistics for those in jail is very depressing, still more so for death row.

  27. Let me just add that I’m not sure he’s been saying how much he likes to fuck young girls, though I don’t doubt that’s claimed somewhere. Here’s a Telegraph blog/article about what he said thirty years ago, and they have no evidence he’s said it again. It’s also not about what he likes.

    (It’s particularly unfortunate that the Telegraph title misquotes Polanski.)

    I reread an extraordinary interview Polanski gave to the novelist Martin Amis in 1979, the year after Polanski went on the run.

    The interview originally appeared in Tatler and is collected in Amis’s excellent book Visiting Mrs Nabokov.

    Here’s a section of the first quote it contains from Polanski.

    “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!”

    Thirty years have passed since Polanski said those words, so he’s had time to reconsider them. Whether he’s actually done so, we don’t yet know. Perhaps he still thinks it’s true that everyone fancies little girls, and that the press was exaggerating the enormity of his crime, and that all this somehow excuses his behaviour. [my stress]

    Reading the transcript revealed a huge mismatch between what’s on the web and what’s in the transcript or in evidence elsewhere. I spent a long time trying to find an article about crime lab reports on her underwear on the Smoking Gun, which a number of people referred to. The Smoking Gun index of articles about Polanski is exceptionally boring after a while, but I couldn’t find the underwear report. He’s said to have made incriminating films of the encounter, but there’s nothing in the grand jury testimony about films, though there’s a lot about pictures in the earlier stages, before they went into the room the rape was said to be in.

  28. The sex drive is notoriously amoral, which is why so much of morality is concerned with controlling and canalizing it. Why should Polanski affirmation that everyone desires young girls be held against him any more than Freud’s affirmation that every male child desires his mother be held against Freud?

  29. my jaw is hanging open, amos. how can you compare someone you acted on a desire to someone who wrote about desires? amos, you just made the readers of freud, as I assume you presume to be, sound like morons. or perhaps just yourself.

  30. I’m the only moron. Polanski’s affirmation that everyone desires young girls may or may not be an inconvenient truth, but I don’t see why it should be used against him. Polanski should be judged for what he did, not for what he said.

  31. What really bugs me about this is that I think it’s a waste of time. I think he’s a creep, but that’s irrelevant. Girls and young women are raped or forced into exploitative marriages while we focus on the celebs. But that’s not even on the radar, because they’re dirt poor and their abusers are often hardly better off, so we talk about the beautiful people instead. It’s easier that way. Bright lines and all. I’m no better by any means, but for once I feel you failed me and I felt I had to call you out on it. I may be wrong, I’d like to be wrong on this call.

    To clarify: I don’t resent your talking about Polanski as such. I just wish you went beyond the obvious like you usually do. I’m just so spoiled expecting insights from this blog, I’m unwilling to give you a break.

  32. Although I abhor what Polanski did (according to his victim’s testimony), and believe he should be extradited (without, however, the faintest idea of what, if any, sanction should result), I can’t help but envy a culture in which he enjoys such strident defenders:

    “Being an artist or intellectual is considered a privilege in France,” is how Christian Viviani, a French professor of film, put it the other day. Translation: prominent French artists and intellectuals, or many of them anyway, believe that their work, by virtue of its excellence, allows them moral leeway.

    This goes beyond simply differentiating their work from their private lives. France is a nation that worships aesthetes and philosophers, and some moral tension arises from this. Art and philosophy test boundaries. Artists demand their own social compass. Taken to its extreme, the argument implies that simply being an exceptional artist or intellectual can mitigate even criminal behavior.

  33. Rob, being an artist or intellectual is considered a privilege in nearly all countries, including the US and France. The French have already stopped calling for his release. And, yes, artists do demand new social compasses, but they do so not as criminals but as individuals seeking justice and redress in new languages from a society that is *already* criminal. Taken to its extreme, artists are the only ones that aren’t criminals.

  34. JJ, thanks for the full context for that quote, and also for your clarifications. I think we’re actually on the same page, really: I think extradition is right but not because I am certain of his guilt. (And I think, as I think everyone in this thread does, that many of the reasons used against extradition are non-starters.)

  35. Jender, yes, i think that’s right. I was taking any references to guilt as stronger, I suspect, than you meant. And I certainly agree about the supposed excuses, etc.

    I was hoping you’d pick up on Fred’s point; you’ll have something interesting to say.

  36. two other ideas that i haven’t seen mentioned-discussed in this case.

    one, the french “respect” they afforded polanski isn’t based exclusively on his art; it has a great deal to do with his status as a Holocaust survivor. the french aren’t nearly as liberal and artistically minded as people in the UK-US seem to give them credit for being; a great deal of the racism and reactionary thinking that existed in the 30’s and 40’s and *still* exists in france.

    two, the swiss stand to re-gain some of the trust they’ve lost with the US during the economic crisis because of their secretive banking practices by cooperating with the US.

    i bring these two points up because people seem to think this is about a famous person, blah, blah, blah, but there are much larger political issues, too.

  37. Really good points, Reel Aesthete. And Fred, sorry to let you down this time! I’m afraid my current cold means I’m very unlikely to come up with anything insightful right now to make up for previous predictability. Glad you’ve been happy with us before.

  38. Yes, Reel Aesthete’s points are a helpful corrective to my narrowly cinephiliac perspective (fixated as it is on the breadth of international auteurs, including not a few American film-makers, who obtain financing from French sources). Though the other examples sited in the article, I think, mark a not inconsiderable difference (though it may be shrinking) between France and the US.

  39. i’m not a grammar police person. i know people make typos, but, it is CITE not SITE. you CITE a source; you go to a SITE.

  40. thanks, jender.

    rob, i understand. i only mentioned in because it may be important, say, when you’re working on some big paper or proofing something that *really* matters.

    the fact that everyone spends so much time on webSITES certainly doesn’t help people to know the difference.

  41. Fred, let me have a go, though perhaps not a very satisfactory one.

    I do think your kind of comment is absolutely right about, for example, a press that concentrates on kidnapped or murdered privileged middle-class girls/women, and ignores the murder of black girls, sex workers, etc. Elizabeth Smart’s being snatched from her bed was terrible, but there are comparable things happening on a much bigger scale around the world that are just ignored. (There have been some improvements and some remarkable articles by Kristoff and others.)

    I think with the Polanski case there are two factors that are getting run together: the details of the Polanski case and the idea that some things cannot trump moral/legal matters about raping underage girls. I’m thinking you are probably objecting to the focus on Polanski rather than the focus on questions about what should not override someone’s having raped a child.

    I’m not sure how many of us were focusing on Polanski as such, rather than (in my case) on questions about the language being used.

    Thanks so much for your comments about our past!

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