Some have said that you can measure a man by how he treats his mother in particular and women in general. Others say you can measure him not by the kinds of mistakes he makes, but by how he handles them. I believe both of these to be true.
Having said that, I would like to say that is never okay for a man to drug and rape a thirteen-year-old. (Or anyone for that matter.) Neither is it okay to flee the country before the sentencing for this rape and live as a free person in another country. It is never, ever okay. And yet, that is exactly what Academy Award winning director Roman Polanski did. And that’s why he’s sitting in a prison cell as his lawyers argue that his arrest was illegal because he was arrested in Switzerland, a country safe from extradition.
And while I will leave the legality of his arrest for the courts to decide, I want to discuss the moral issues inherent in this case. I want to know why a grown man (Polanski was forty-four years old at the time of the rape) would think that it was okay to rape a thirteen-year-old girl. She was young, burgeoning model, and he was a middle-aged established director. He had all of the power: money, fame, success, a stronger physical frame, and a drug that influenced her. And he used it all to abuse her—to rape her.
The court of law and the court of public opinion are clear about what should happen to a person if they rape, steal, murder, or harm either a person or their property. And this is one of the primary, most fundamental lessons that we instill in our children—that there are consequences for all of our actions—that if “you do the crime, you do the time.”
I don’t know the horror of being raped; I pray that I never will. But I imagine that having to report the rape to the police and recant the story repeatedly for lawyers and in court was nearly as traumatic as the event itself. I can imagine being ashamed of everyone knowing what happened to me—how someone abused me and stole from me in the most personal, intimate way. I can imagine wanting to see some sort of punishment be shoveled out, while knowing that it could never restore what was taken from me. But I can’t imagine discovering that the person ran away—that they had escaped to a “safe zone,” where they had essentially been given a “Get out of jail free card,” so they needn’t fear being held accountable for their crime. I can’t imagine that.
And I can’t imagine this person continuing to live and work (and in such a glamorous way), like nothing ever happened. I wonder what it must have felt like for her to hope to have some sort of justice come, only to experience injustice for thirty-two years. I wonder what it must have been like every time she saw that he had directed another movie, as a fugitive. I don’t know how she felt about the countless actors and producers who worked on his projects, knowing that there was a warrant out for his arrest. Did it cross her mind how unjust it all was every time one of his films was nominated for an Academy Award and when he won his Oscar?
His victim, now forty-five, says that she has forgiven him. I’m sure she had to because to not have would have been too painful. His life was too public, his work too prolific, for the hard work of forgiveness to have not have taken place in her heart. If not, she could have felt victimized every time he directed, or traveled, or laughed, or ate, or slept, in freedom.
So she forgave; I salute that. But what I can’t salute is an industry that works with and then celebrates a known fugitive. In fact, I consider the film industry co-conspirators in his escape and I hold them equally responsible for justice’s delay.
It doesn’t matter if a person committed a crime a week ago or five decades ago. Everyone MUST accept his or her punishment. Watching this drama unfold has made me more appreciative of the celebrities who have committed their crimes, done their times, and returned to society apologetic and renewed. Michael Vick is just one example. These are the people who deserve open-armed receptions back into society’s good graces.
I think it’s a bit ironic, yet fitting, that Polanski was arrested on his way to achieve a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival, because for all of his artistic achievements, what his life revealed most about him was his cowardice. While he had the balls to drug and rape a young girl, he didn’t have the courage to stand before the law accountable for his actions. That single action, supported by the three ensuing decades of behavior, revealed what perhaps he knows better than anyone else: that he is isn't much of a man.