The Polanski Question: Why Does The Hollywood Elite Continue to Excuse Rape and Violence?

Even though it’s far from the most pressing news story of
the day, it was hard to turn away from the extreme, voluminous response to
Roman Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland and his likely extradition to the United
States to finally face sentencing for a crime he committed 32 years ago, when
he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl who, according to her testimony to the
grand jury, protested every step of the way and begged to go home.  The fallout had less to do with any
question about the details of the case—it seems they were never really in
question—and more about a group of highly privileged wealthy people excusing
child rape while the rest of the country gapes in disbelief.

Initially, it seemed most of the lashing out at the French
political elite, Hollywood movers and shakers, and clueless pundits who
defended Polanski came from feminists, for whom angrily reminding people that
rape is a crime has become routine. 
But then I started to see conservatives jump on board the same wagon, creating a weird
alliance.  Unfortunately, right
wing bloggers tend to get more up in arms about the rare false rape accusation
than the exponentially more common problem of rape, and what little anti-rape
blogging I’ve seen from them centers around painting Islamic cultures as
hopelessly misogynist (while ignoring the misogyny in our own).  So what accounted for the outrage?  The youth of the victim?

Then it dawned on me that it was because the people
defending Polanski were straight out of the right wing playbook on who to
demonize: Hollywood liberals and the French being the primary targets.  (Never mind that online polls showed
that 70%
of French respondents wanted Polanski to be sentenced for rape
.)   This muddled the conservative support for this particular
feminist cause considerably, as it gave Polanski defenders some evidence for
their outrageous assertion that Polanski was being targeted not because he’s a
child rapist, but because he’s a French citizen who makes artful movies, and
Americans are a bunch of philistines. 
I would disagree, for instance, that I’m a philistine, but I can’t
dispute that the anti-Polanski crowd had some philistines in our camp.  But we had everyone in our camp!  Very few people are comfortable with
the idea that a child rapist should elude justice because he’s rich or because
he directed Chinatown.

But even liberals who usually poo-pooh right wing complaints
about the French, Hollywood, and liberal “elites” had to admit that Polanski
defenders were fitting the right wing stereotypes of decadent liberalism to a
"T."  Katha
Pollitt described the situation as
showing “the liberal cultural elite at
its preening, fatuous worst.” Jeff
Fecke noted
that Hollywood culture, particularly with the heavy use of the
casting couch, is the dictionary definition of a rape culture, and that makes
it easy for Polanski supporters to just chalk up what he did to a 13-year-old
as normal.  No doubt the
proliferation of precocious child stars who have disturbing sex lives and drug
use informs their opinion, as well.

But I’d suggest that the Hollywood rush to defend Polanski
is something simpler: the same apologism you see every time a man assaults a
woman with the same or lower social status that he has.  Every time a frat boy rapes a sorority
girl, an athlete rapes a fan, a famous musician beats his girlfriend, a
bunch of rich high school kids
rape a classmate, high
school athletes rape a mentally retarded girl
, or a Hollywood star takes
advantage of an underage girl, the story is the same: The man or men can expect
friends, family, admirers, and perfect strangers invested in the sexist status
quo to rally around and support him while denouncing the victim as a liar and a
slut who asked for it.

The saddest part of the Polanski defense is how it sounds
like every other rape apologist excuse that gets trotted out every time this
happens.  The excuses are so common
that various bingo cards have been made to mock the excuses. Here’s an example of a
bingo card,
and it’s easy to match these standard excuses to the Polanski

For this list, I will shamelessly
rip off Amanda Hess.

  • He’s
    a role model, not a rapist!
       As Amanda
    found, Polanski’s defenders were willing to say his
    artistic genius precludes rape charges.
  • He’s rich; we all know what she’s
    after, hmmm?
      As Katha
    Pollitt noted, Polanski defenders like Joan K. Shore accused the victim’s mother
    of being a grabby stage mom, as if this justifies raping her daughter.
  • She was a slutty groupie.  In the shamelessly dishonest
    documentary defending Polanski called “Roman Polanski: Wanted and
    Desired”, friends of his actually lean on the fact that the victim wasn’t
    a virgin to justify raping her.
  • But the police investigated and didn’t
    press charges.
    Polanski version of this is assuming that because he pled down to sex with
    a minor, then it was no big deal. 
    The truth is that he drugged her and raped her over her protests.
  • Hearing
    this must be so hard for his family.
      This apologist excuse has been beefed up tremendously
    because Polanski, who has survived both the Holocaust and having his wife
    murdered by the Manson family, has suffered so much.


I could go on, but you get the idea.  We don’t need to believe that Hollywood
culture is unique or that this is a manifestation of these people’s particular
evil to understand this situation. The only thing unique about this round of
rape apologism is that the defenders have an especially loud megaphone.

It’s been remarked upon that this list of celebrities
who’ve denounced
Polanski is populated with a lot more B-listers, C-listers
and worse than the list of Polanski defenders.  That strikes me less as evidence that less talented people
have more moral grounding (anyway, there are some really amazing artists on
that list) than evidence that Polanski’s friends are all at the top of the heap
in Hollywood.  People who don’t run
in his elite circles and have no occasion to meet him or much hope of working with him
aren’t invested in believing that he’s a good guy, and so are free to see the
situation for what it is.  Kevin
Smith and Chris Rock obviously can’t be touched by Polanski or punished for
coming out against what he did, and I think that more than anything explains
this disparity.

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  • heather-corinna

    This is so great, Amanda: thanks for this.

  • anonymous99

    Thanks for tackling this Amanda. "But I’d suggest that the Hollywood rush to defend Polanski is something simpler: the same apologism you see every time a man assaults a woman with the same or lower social status that he has." I agree. Stars will always have their defenders, that’s true. But his defenders are the minority. The very fact that this case has been kept alive for so many years, even against the wishes of the victim, is proof positive that Americans do believe in justice even for the Roman Polanskis of the world. I think this is a very positive result for America and I don’t think we should lose sight of that. Switching gears I must say that I think the result would have been far different had she been 23 and not 13. Take the recent Ben Roethlisberger incident. Does anyone believe his accuser? Not me. You seem to downplay false accusation as a problem (and I don’t doubt that in sheer numbers you’re right), but I would suggest that from the average person’s perspective extorting or getting back at someone in this manner is a big problem. Not only for the falsely accused but mostly for the real victims that you all work so hard to protect and defend. I would hope that you and those in your field would start taking these false accusations head on and start calling for very harsh sentences for these people (and their lawyers). BTW I’ve seen Polanski’s victim on TV and read some additional quotes by her. Her pain over the fact that this has remained unresolved is very evident. She has not been shy about her desire to have this whole thing dropped. This must be a very difficult time for her. I pray that she has the strength and a solid support system around her to see her through this.

  • atheist

    Personally I still can’t believe people defend the guy. Back when he raped the girl, or now. People say, "but the victim doesn’t even want him to be tried". Well who can blame her at this point but this is not strictly about her. It’s about the law and whether some people are above the law, or not.

  • amanda-marcotte

    The numbers put the false reports of rape at 2-8% of all rape reports.  And that’s reports.  Most women who file a false report don’t actually accuse anyone, but claim to be raped by a stranger.  Which makes sense, for two reasons: a) they don’t want to hurt anyone and b) if they’re doing this for attention, they know that the only real way to get sympathy is to make a lower class stranger rapist.


    Women know that people like you will automatically accuse them of being liars if they accuse someone of higher status than them.  It happens, but so very rarely that it becomes giant news, unlike the exponentially more common crime of rape.


    I find it offensive that you’re accusing the accuser of the Roethlisberger case of lying.  If you are opposed to making false accusations, or making accusations with no evidence to back it up, shouldn’t you tend to your own business?  Accusing her of lying is a very serious accusation, you know.

  • jodi-jacobson

    that Amanda and RHRC were trying to expose, generally.

    On what basis can it be assumed that Ben Roethlisberger’s accuser is not credible?  I am not privy to the details and don’t know either party.

    Just a week ago a Nevada judge refused to dismiss the civil suit against him:

    A Nevada judge denied motions by lawyers for
    Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger(notes) to dismiss a civil lawsuit
    alleging he raped a Lake Tahoe casino worker, according to court documents
    released Wednesday.

    Washoe District Judge Brent Adams rejected arguments that the suit should be
    dismissed, saying the woman’s allegations make a “sufficient” claim that if
    proven, would entitle her to relief.

    “The court recognizes that a motion to dismiss is only proper where it
    appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff could prove no set of facts which, if
    true, would entitle them to relief,” Adams wrote in the order filed late

    While I don’t think anything is yet settled, why is it that we would assume we know anything more than this sitting judge?

    I believe it has to do with the very same dynamic…..athletes and other "celebrities" have a level of entitlement to behavior and violations of other people’s rights that is astounding.  Just look at the rush to defense by many of Chris Brown in the beating of Rihanna.  "It was just an overreaction…".  And not only was she not seeking anything from him but she also was not even making a case of it on her own.  Yet still celebrities went every way til Sunday to defend the abhorrent behavior of this man.

    I think everyone of us is responsible for examining our own assumptions and behaviors in these matters, and in this case, anonymous99, the jury is still out officially.  I don’t think you should play jury of one.


    Best, Jodi

  • gordon

    I have posted about this before, both here and at Pandagon, but the issue isn’t going to go away. As best I can make out, my disagreement with Ms. Marcotte boils down to this:


    First of all, I do not defend either Mr. Polanski or his actions. The point has been made by many commenters that Samantha Geimer was not the only victim, and that society at large will suffer if a confessed child rapist is allowed to go free. This is certainly true. The question is, Does society’s interest in this case trump Ms. Geimer’s stated desire to close the book on the whole thing and be spared the media circus that a Polanski trial will surely become? Ms. Marcotte, and apparently most other people, believe that it does. I disagree. I do not think that makes me an apologist for child rape, as some commenters have insinuated, and I am pretty sure Ms. Geimer would not think so, either.


    Polanski surely deserves our scorn and condemnation. But before you make any more calls for his extradition and trial, please look into your hearts and ask yourselves what you would say to her if Samantha Geimer confronted you face-to-face and asked you to cease and desist. This is my only beef with all of you who are calling for Polanski’s head. If she withdrew her objections, I would say, "Let Polanski be extradited and tried without delay."

  • anonymous99

    First, If you fail to file a police report and a couple years later you privately attempt to ply money out of your rich lover while threatening to take the matter public then don’t be surprised if people don’t find you credible.  Is this really that hard to understand.  Amanda, from your cite: "It should be noted that what many studies report as false reporting rates are in fact recanting rates." and "Finally, the large majority of reported rapes never lead to convictions at all…"  I have no idea if these assertions are true or not.  I trust that you believe the source is reliable and that’s good enough for me.  In any event, the 2-8% you cite seems dubious at best.  As you know there are other studies/reports which purport much higher rates than this.  I find this to be an impossible rate to pin down.  We know there are rapes that are never reported.  This is surely true.  But if the 2-8% are based on only recants then the rates you cite are too low to generalize about the actual rate of false reports and accusations.  Certainly some of the case dismissals and acquitals that make up a "large majority" of reported rapes are false reports and would not be included in the statistics you cite. Some convictions are based on false accusations.  In the Roethlisberger case, the alleged victim never even filed a police report, but decided to head straight to $ court.  False accusations under this scenario would not be included in the statistics you cite.  And we’ll never know how many false accusations lead to private settlements that, of course, are not included in the statistics you cite.  "Women know that people like you will automatically accuse them of being liars if they accuse someone of higher status than them."  I’m not star-struck Amanda.  In the end you can dismiss and marginalize the affect false reports have on public perception if you like, but you’re certainly not doing your own cause any favors.

  • anonymous99

    I understand what you’re saying but thankfully for Ms. Geimer I don’t believe there will be a trial.  I think he just needs to be sentenced.  I really don’t understand the whole thing and maybe someone with a legal background can clear this up, but my understanding is that both sides agreed to the lesser charge of having sex with a minor and recommended a light sentence for Polanski.  He pleaded guilty but the judge seemed prepared to sentence him to a long prison term (which is why he fled).  Is this right?  I’m not sure what, if anything, she’ll be compelled to do regarding the sentencing.  Again, maybe there’s someone out there who can clear this up.

  • jgbeam

    not because he is an arty French citizen or a Hollywood liberal but because he raped a child. You just couldn’t accept the truth that a conservative might agree with you on something. Let me make it clear. Polanski is an evil man. Spending the rest of his life in prison will be a hayride compared to what awaits him later.

    Jim Grant, Pro-lifer

  • colleen

    You just couldn’t accept the truth that a conservative might agree with you on something.

    Perhaps we’re confused by the silence when your clergy rapes children and your support of those who enable and protect child rapists as a matter of (unchanged) policy. Perhaps we’ve noticed that one of the main responses of your clergy to the ongoing scandals has been to fight every attempt to change laws and statutes of limitation so that pedophiles and those who protect them can be held legally responsible for their acts.

    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • amanda-marcotte

    Simply allow child rapists to go free because victims don’t want to suffer a trial.  No victim ever does, for one thing.  Rape victims particularly hate it, because they don’t like having their good name smeared.


    But the state has already done what they could to take her wishes into account.  They let Polanski plead down for a severely reduced sentence in order to spare her a trial. Her suffering is Polanski’s fault, because he’s dragging this out. 


    If rapists get it in their head that they can really start to use the victim’s desire for closure to get away with rape, that would be terrible.  Defense attorneys already put rape victims through hell in hopes the prosecutor will drop the charges.  Dropping them in this case would only incline defense attorneys to think that torturing victims even more is an ideal strategy.

  • anonymous99

    If anyone is interested.

    There will not be a trial. He just needs to be sentenced. The report was prepared for his sentencing.

  • ch

    On this you are correct. Polanski has already been convicted of statutory rape. He simply needs to be sentenced which is what makes this whole brouhaha slightly surreal. He is not being put ON trial, HE ALREADY PLEADED GUILTY to statutory rape. He chose to flee when it was time for the sentencing phase of his legal proceeding and was never sentenced. He fled because he became aware that the judge might not have been as amenable to a “time served” sentence of 42 days that he had all but been promised by the prosecutor. Ms. Geimer has no power whatsoever to prevent the court from sentencing Polanski for a crime to which he pleaded guilty, no matter what she does.

  • crowepps

    There is also the fact that some of the women who recant do so because the accusation was false and some of them recant because even though the rape actually did happen they can no longer handle the pressure of threats or social disapproval or because they have received a private pay-off of some kind to let the guy off the hook. Certainly it’s been demonstrated in a number of studies that when victims of incest ‘recant’ it’s not because the incest didn’t actually happen but instead because of pressure by the family who make it clear that the child will be banished for telling the truth.

  • anonymous99

    "If the plea was withdrawn, could the DA’s office pull the case together after all this time? Probably. First of all, even though Geimer said she didn’t want Polanski to do any more time, I wouldn’t discount the possibility that she’d show up to testify at trial. But even if she didn’t, lots of other evidence is out there: Geimer’s spontaneous statements to others about the rape, the observations of the nurses and doctors who examined her, and Polanski’s admissions to friends, family, and others would come in. Bottom line, there’s a case that can be made even without the victim—and without Polanski’s guilty plea."  Based on Geimer’s many and consistent statements over the years I think there’s zero chance she’d cooperate with a prosecution at this point  (see,0,6765170.story  "she wrote to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Larry P. Fidler on May 28, 1997. "It is also my opinion as the victim of this crime that the 42 days he has already served is excessive."").  She and her mother had no interest in sending him to prison in 1978 (see my earlier post re: his probation report) – why would they do this now?  No doubt the DA has already been in contact with Geimer re: this.  Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was over soon.

  • jgbeam

    that I find priests raping children even more despicable than Mr. Polanski’s act.  The coverup by Church hierarchy then componded the sins.  I offer no excuse for these actions and believe all involved should be prosecuted.  So, can it be that we actually agree on something? 

    Jim Grant, Pro-lifer

  • grayduck

    Who, exactly, is defending Polanski?


  • faultroy

    Amanda, you forgot to mention a number of very important facts…the victim has repeatedly asked the state to drop the charges. She wants this matter to go away. She is married with two children of her own and finds the details extremely embarrassing. Furthermore, the victim was compensated with a payment of $250,000. Certainly what Polanski did was both wrong and needed to be punished, but in this case, the victim should make the call, not the state. As far as your comment about the rare rape allegation, all statistics indicate that false rape allegations fall between 40% and 60% of all allegations. This is published throughout the Internet and is considered accurate by all organizations including the FBI and the Justice Department. As a matter of fact, a few years ago the head of the Sex Crimes Unit for Manhattan wrote a book, and she said: "of the 4,000 rape charges made last year, half were proven to be false." The Air Force did an internal investigation of rape charges and found that 40% to be unsubstantiated. I would really like to know where you are getting your statistical information. It is because of these many rape charges that rape is getting to be an ever more accepted crime. Today, rape is so misused, in Law Enforcement they use the term "Sexual Assault."