All this news about Roman Polanski has me thinking: why is it that we “pardon” or overlook some individuals for their crimes? Polanski is not the only perpetrator to flee the state or country. Many others before him have done the same, yet they eventually served their time. So why do some think he’s above the law?
There was John List. Remember him? At the age of 46, he killed his wife, 3 kids and his own mother in 1971. He walked away from that bloody crime and began a new life. He fell in love again, got married, got a job. Then, when he was 63 years old, America’s Most Wanted profiled how he might look aged. Calls came flooding in. Finally, police arrested List in 1989, some 18 years after he killed his family. Justice was served.
Then there was Ivan Demjanjuk who served as a Nazi commander in a death camp in occupied Poland in 1943. Some nine years later, he came to the US and changed his name to John. At the age 89, Demjanjuk was extradited from the US earlier this year. Justice was served.
There was the Kenneth John Freeman case. He raped his daughter when she was between the ages of 10 and 12 and posted it online. According to federal marshals, it was “one of the most widely downloaded child pornography” of the time. He fled the country and went to China to work as a computer specialist. He was later extradited from Hong Kong. Justice was served.
Alexander Andrew Kelly was another convicted rapist. He was on the run for seven years, mostly in Europe. In 1995 when his passport expired, he surrended and was extradicted from Switzerland. Justice was served.
In 2002, Andrew Luster was on trial for drugging, raping and sodomizing women. In January 2003, he fled the country and went to the beaches of Mexico. Being an heir to the Max Factor fortune, money was no problem. In June 2003, bounty hunters brought him back to America. Justice was served.
But then there are the celebrities. Anecdotally, it would seem they get star treatment, even in the courtroom. Robert Blake and O.J. Simpson were both accused of killing their partners, both got acquitted (although, they both lost their civil cases). Pro athtletes seem to get similar treatment. USA Today had some interesting evidence of this when Kobe Bryant was charged with rape (the accuser later dropped the charges against Bryant). USA Today looked at 168 allegations of sexual assault by athletes. Only 22 ever went to trial and just 6 ended in convictions. And earlier this year, Chris Brown seemed to be well-defended by his fans, while Rihanna, as reflected by one poll, “deserved” what she got. However, when one individual asked if Michelle Obama would “deserve” to be hit, the answer was an overwhelming no.
As a society, we seem to judge individuals by their occupations, and sometimes their looks, more so than the evidence on hand. It can be similar in domestic violence cases. How many stories have you read of the “nice guy” that “inexplicably snaps.” (Oddly enough, or not so oddly, these guys all seem to be middle class white men.) These guys aren’t much of a “nice guy” whatsoever. What often happens is reporters interview the guys’ neighbors. Most people seem nice when you’re just waving hello and goodbye from across the driveway or picket fence. Neighbors rarely know if the people next door to them have a history of domestic violence.
It’s similar with child sexual abuse. Nobody wants to believe a friend, let alone a parent, molested a child. Yet, it happens. We have to take off our blinders. Perpetrators don’t come with a branded message on their foreheads. Some of them are “nice,” charming even, white, middle or upper class, fathers, mothers, clergymen and rabbis. Heck, even the UN Peace Keepers were accused of using brothels, selling sex for food and raping children. Most of them got away with it, too. After all, who wants to convict a peacekeeper?
And some perpetrators are directors. People’s occupation, looks or status in life do not entitle them to rape, violate and abuse other individuals with less clout and credibility. Impunity, in fact, is the greatest barrier to solving the problem of violence against women. This is a problem that many consider one of the greatest human rights abuses affecting this planet: rape, domestic violence, serial killings, sexual harassment, sexual slavery, acid attacks, female genital mutilation, breast ironing, stoning, honor killings, child brides, brideknapping, sex-selective abortions and infanticide – - it’s a long list of abuses that affect women and girls. And it’s time we take it seriously and use both prevention and punishment in our arsenal.
Roman Polanski drugged, raped and sodomized a 13-year-old girl. It’s a case of gender-based violence. Fleeing the country to thwart justice was cowardly. He did not serve his time in France. He must do so here in the States where he committed his crime. It’s time he faced the charges and did his time. Justice needs to be served.