Fellow author Jim C. Hines has posted on numerous occasions before about rape — its causes and consequences, our cultural attitudes surrounding it — based on his experiences as a rape counselor. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that he would post about the Polanski situation, and utterly demolish the various defenses on Polanski’s behalf.
(He does overlook the Hitler/Manson one. To which we can quote the comment thread: Your own victimhood doesn’t give you a right to make somebody else a victim.)
I don’t have much to add to that. Only an incomplete thought on what should happen now.
What do we stand to gain by imprisoning the man, or otherwise punishing him? There are three obvious possibilities. One is vengeance: make him suffer because he made someone else suffer. (No, thirty years of gilded exile as a well-respected filmmaker does not count as suffering. Not in my book.) But our justice system is, at least in theory, not about vengeance, and the victim — the one with the most claim to this angle — has said she doesn’t want it. Another is prevention: lock Polanski up so he can’t do this again. We’re a bit late, seeing as how he’s had thirty years plus in which to do it again, but there’s perhaps a faint bit of merit left in this one. The third angle, of course, is deterrence: we lock Polanski up so some other guy (whether a prominent filmmaker or not) will think twice before he drugs and rapes a thirteen-year-old. But it seems to be sadly true that prison-as-deterrence is not nearly so effective as you’d like to think.
I see a fourth angle, though, hiding in the shadow of deterrence, very similar but not quite the same. Call it principle. This is the bit where the community of the United States, and more specifically the state of California, as manifested in its criminal justice system, stands up and says very publicly that THIS IS NOT OKAY.
It is not okay to drug and rape a thirteen-year-old girl, over her continued and consistent protests. Even if you’ve had a bad life. Even if you thought she was older. Even if her mother shoved the kid at you. Even if you’ve made some art that people really like. It is also not okay to plead guilty and then flee before your sentencing. Even if you think the judge was going to be harsh. Even if you were afraid of going to jail. And if you do these things, you will suffer consequences.
It isn’t just about scaring the criminals off. It’s about teaching all the rest of society, all the ones who aren’t criminals, that these crimes are something they can and should do something about. It’s a lesson I fear too much of society still hasn’t learned, where rape is concerned, because we still hear all the usual defenses. She shouldn’t have gone there. She shouldn’t have trusted him. She shouldn’t have been wearing that dress, that makeup, those shoes. And you know, it isn’t that big a deal anyway, let’s feel some sympathy for the poor guy who raped her, because now he’s being blamed for what he did.
When the day comes that somebody like Polanski rapes a thirteen-year-old and nobody says “He thought she was older” as if it would have been okay for him to rape an eighteen-year-old, then I’ll feel like we’re making progress. And maybe then I’ll feel it’s okay to show him leniency after thirty years of escaping justice. Maybe. But we’re still light-years away from that, apparently.
In the meantime . . . I don’t know what’s the right punishment here. I find myself wondering what the penalty is for fleeing sentencing after you’ve pled guilty. It would make a good minimum to start with.