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Roman Polanski was convicted of raping a 13-year-old—and he needs to finally do his time
If Poland does the right thing, the long arm of the law might finally pluck Roman Polanski out of exile.
Polish authorities wait til Roman Polanski has one foot in the grave to “consider extradition” *MOUTH AGAPE*
— Cem Ceasar (@IBreatheWonder) January 20, 2015
In 1977, Polanski was charged with furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, perversion, sodomy, committing lewd and lascivious acts upon a child of under 14, and rape by use of drugs. He took a plea bargain for “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor”—statutory rape—in exchange for having the other charges dropped. After being ordered to attend a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and completing it, Polanski was asked to appear in court for final sentencing. But instead, he fled the United States for France, taking advantage of his protection from extradition, and he’s been hiding in Europe ever since.
Polanski has somehow ended up being cast as the victim here, living in “exile” in Europe in the undoubtedly harsh and miserable conditions of multiple homes, cradled by film industry elite.
His supporters from around the world include a disturbingly long list of well-known figures like Tilda Swinton, Woody Allen, David Lynch, Salman Rushdie, and Martin Scorsese, who treat him like a persecuted hero instead of the rapist he is.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has filed multiple requests for extradition—he was briefly detained in Zurich in 2009-2010, and now, Polish investigators have referred their findings on the latest request to court for review. Should the court determine that the request be granted, the Justice Minister will need to approve it, and Polanski could be sent back to the United States at last, in what would be a monumental moment for American justice.
“His chances of getting off with a slap on the wrist are good, especially with Geimer’s forgiveness,” wrote Julian Sancton at Vanity Fair when he filed for dismissal in 2009. His victim has made it clear after an earlier suit and settlement over the case that she has forgiven Polanski and thinks the matter should simply be dropped, and this would carry significant weight in court. For Polanski, the court appearance would be a minor matter.
“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.”
Yet, as Sady Doyle noted in 2009 at the Guardian in a discussion of his case, “the criminal justice system doesn’t traffic in healing or forgiveness.” Doyle wrote, “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.” It doesn’t matter if Polanski is beloved by the film industry, if he has contributed to the cultural history of the West, if his victim has forgiven him—what matters is that he appear in court to accept his sentence.
Polanski’s arrogant response to the investigation and threat of extradition was simply denial: “I believe that this will not take place. I have confidence in Poland’s justice system.” Meanwhile, the United States is struggling to rectify a miscarriage of justice that has been stretching on for decades. Polanski and his supporters seem to believe that he’s being persecuted by dogged district attorneys and judges who have refused to let the case rest and that the Polish government will protect him from such a gross violation, but perhaps they’re wrong. Perhaps the Polish justice system will do the right thing, even at the cost of losing their hero.
At the Guardian, Catherine Bennett points out the bizarre double standard when it comes to who is condemned in cases like this and how high the cost of that condemnation can be. Bennett writes, “[I]f a serious sex conviction should cost a footballer his entire career (along with the professions routinely closed to sex offenders) then a similar vigilance should, surely, be applied to discernible sleazebaggery in any other profession, from whistleblowing to royal work, where clemency might be mistaken for approval.”
Photo via FICG.mx/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed
s.e. smith is a Northern California-based journalist and writer focusing on social justice issues. smith's work has appeared in publications like Esquire, the Guardian, Rolling Stone, In These Times, Bitch Magazine, and Pacific Standard.