Unforgivable Roman Polanski

The Roman Polanski defenders are out in force. Since his arrest, we've already heard pretty much every line that has ever been used to defend him during his decades as a fugitive: that his life has been hard, that he's suffered (because everyone who has had a sufficiently tough life is, of course, entitled to one free rape, courtesy of the US government), that he's paid his price (since living in Europe as a rich and acclaimed film director is a fate worse than death) and that the real tragedy is that he will forever be known as a rapist.

Which is not so much a "tragedy" as it is the result of the facts being known. Polanski vaginally and anally assaulted a 13-year-old girl, forced oral sex on her and pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor. He did this as part of a plea bargain. When he began to fear that his sentence would not be as light as he had hoped, he fled the country. And had he not directed movies, our judgment would be unilateral and harsh. It's generally considered unacceptable, in the US criminal justice system, for a criminal to flee the country because he's afraid he won't like his sentence.

Yet the Polanski apologists keep coming. And some are actually using Samantha Gailey, the woman he raped, to make their point. They argue that she has "forgiven" him, that she has moved for the case to be dismissed. A New York Daily News article calls her his "most compelling defender", and it's rare to read an article supporting Polanski without her "forgiveness" being mentioned. She plays a key part in this petition for his release. For those like Bernard-Henri Lévy who want to give Polanski a pass, Gailey (who now goes by her married name, Geimer) is a key part of their strategy.

Which is precious, given that people who want to give Polanski a pass were responsible for a large amount of her trauma in the first place. Indeed, many seem not to have actually read her statements on the case – which are, in many cases, less about ensuring the continued welfare of poor Roman Polanski than about not wanting to have her name, family and actions dragged once more through the mud.

Consider, for a moment, her statements in the 1997 People magazine interview in which she "forgave" the man. Her statements are not about how Polanski has suffered, but about the vicious victim-blaming and harassment that followed his arrest:

Reporters and photographers came to my school and put my picture in a European tabloid with the caption Little Lolita. They were all saying, "Poor Roman Polanski, entrapped by a 13-year-old temptress." I had a good friend who came from a good Catholic family, and her father wouldn't let her come to my house anymore. It was even worse for my mother because everyone was saying it was her fault. ... Twenty years ago everything said about me was horrible.

Is it any wonder, then, that she says now the attention is "not pleasant to experience and is not worth maintaining"? Praising Gailey for not pursuing the case, or using her as an excuse to argue that Polanski should be above the law, is a stunningly cynical and callous move, and a continuation both of the massive lack of empathy for her demonstrated at the time of the rape and the legacy of rape apologism that has come to define the conversation around Polanski.

I'm very happy that Gailey, by her own account, has processed the experience and moved on with her life. If she has "forgiven" him, that is her own business – and, for all I know, something she needed to do for her own health. I agree that she should be able to protect her own privacy and only involve herself in the case to the extent that she wishes to do so. I regret that her privacy may be invaded.

But what I am not happy with is the way that certain sectors of society – the same ones that were perfectly willing to shame and blame her when her family sought the conviction – are now parading her around as the good rape victim, the generous rape victim, the rape victim who has seen the light and is now the reason Polanski's 31-year refusal to be held accountable or even express meaningful remorse for raping a child should be aided and abetted by the US government.

I can't speak in Gailey's best interests. I can speak in mine, when I say that I, along with every other US citizen, stand to benefit from this case. If Polanski does finally serve his sentence, it will be a message to all of us that sexual assault is not tolerated, and that no one is above the law – not even those of us who happen to have directed Chinatown.

Forgiveness is a private, personal matter. So is healing from a sexual assault. But the criminal justice system doesn't traffic in healing or forgiveness. It has one purpose, which is to ensure that those who break laws, no matter who they are, will be held accountable and face the court-mandated consequences. And that – not Gailey – is what we need to focus on in the case of Roman Polanski.

Many commenters have simply used the term 'rape' in relation to Roman Polanski's 1977 conviction. The offence he pleaded guilty to is often described as 'statutory rape' but more precisely as 'unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor'.

Sady Doyle, a freelance writer in New York City.