Angela Kelsey

Tell the Story

Polanski and “getting over it”

Filed in Current Affairs :: September 29, 2009

I've been thinking about Roman Polanski's extradition fight.

My first reaction was that he should have come back (or been brought back) to the US to face his charges long ago.  I am not swayed by references to his artistic talent or claims that he has suffered by his self-imposed exile in Europe.

His victim's position that she has gotten over the rape, and that the media's focus on her story, more than Polanski's rape, has caused her harm, has given me second thoughts.

What role should the victim play in decisions about prosecutions of crime?  How does a victim's desire to never think or talk about an event again fit into the equation?  How does any of us decide when to speak the truth about the past and when to be "over" a painful subject? 

Kate Harding wrote a piece on Salon today that's worth reading in its entirety.  But her argument about the victim's role brought me full circle to being sure that Polanski needs to return to California:

"But what of the now-45-year-old victim, who received a settlement
from Polanski in a civil case, saying she'd like to see the charges
dropped? Shouldn't we be honoring her wishes above all else?

In a word, no. At least, not entirely. I happen to believe we should
honor her desire not to be the subject of a media circus, which is why
I haven't named her here, even though she chose to make her identity
public long ago. But as for dropping the charges, Fecke said it quite
well: 'I understand the victim's feelings on this. And I sympathize, I
do. But for good or ill, the justice system doesn't work on behalf of
victims; it works on behalf of justice.'

It works on behalf of the people, in fact — the people whose
laws in every state make it clear that both child rape and fleeing
prosecution are serious crimes. The point is not to keep 76-year-old
Polanski off the streets or help his victim feel safe. The point is
that drugging and raping a child, then leaving the country before you
can be sentenced for it, is behavior our society should not — and at
least in theory, does not — tolerate, no matter how famous, wealthy or
well-connected you are, no matter how old you were when you finally got
caught, no matter what your victim says about it now, no matter how
mature she looked at 13, no matter how pushy her mother was, and no
matter how many really swell movies you've made."

Amen, Kate.