Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Polanski, listening to survivors and anger at perpetrators

I'm a feminist. I have a degree in Women's Studies. I've been trained as a sexual assault advocate. I volunteered on a sexual assault crisis line for three years. When I worked as a counselor and clinic manager for Planned Parenthood and at private clinics I was a mandated reporter. I've listened to women cry. I've helped women who were disassociating ground themselves and find their bodies. I've been required to call the cops when a minor has disclosed abuse. I've seen women feel like they were being assaulted all over again when they talked to the cops, or testified in court. I've held friends as they cried remembering an assault. I've seen how the effects of living thru sexual trauma play out in the lives of people I care about years after the abuse stopped. And I've had customers walk into the store shaking with tears on their cheeks as they look for a way to reclaim their sexuality.

I'm biased. And I know it.

I'll go to the mat for any survivor who chooses to not involve the authorities in her (or his or zes) recovery. And I have. I understand the need to walk away.

I believe, like I believe the sun comes up in the morning, that the person who survives a sexual assault is the person who gets to define how their recovery will go. They had precious, intimate control taken from them, and now, they get to make all of the choices.

Which is why, when I heard that the woman that Polanski raped wanted the matter dropped, I sided with her.

And then I saw the reaction to Polanski's arrest. And I had some issues reconciling my ethics.

I think it was this statement that really got my ire up:

"without wanting to interfere in a very old judicial process...(I) regret in the strongest way that a new ordeal has been inflicted on someone [Polanski] who has gone through so many"
Frederic Mitterand, Minister of Culture, France

Excuse me? He has gone through some incredibly intense things in personal life. Things no one should have to experience. He survived the Holocaust. His mother died in a death camp. His wife and unborn child were murdered in an utterly horrific fashion by the Manson Family. These are unquestionably tragedies. And he deserves empathy and understanding in relation to those events in his life.

But they in no way mitigate the fact that he admitted to, and was convicted of, drugging and raping a 13 year old girl. Read the grand jury testimony. And that he has not yet, according to the state in which he committed this crime, paid his debt.

Or maybe it was this:
He's a brilliant guy, and he made a little mistake 32 years ago, what a shame for Switzerland [for arresting Polanski]
Otto Weiser, friend of Polanski

"A little mistake"?! What the hell is wrong with people? He committed a serious crime.

If convicted of the same crime today, he would be a registered child sex offender. A felon. One of those people that you don't want living on your block. Or around your own kids. He likely would have been sentenced to at least three years in prison (released in less).

He is a gifted filmmaker. That's true. It is also true that the judge in the case changed the terms of the plea deal at the last minute. The judge has since been accused of impropriety in the case.*

Regardless of his sentence, the truth is. He did it. And what he did was horribly wrong.

Perspective on the severity of the offense is needed. Under current law, what he did is a felony level offense.

Of course, he can't be prosecuted under current statutes. That's unconstitutional. But looking at is crime in relation to current statutes helps to illustrate what he did in a contemporary context. And it's not pretty.

Here's what current California Penal Code says about this type of sexual assault which was:
  • penetration of a minor under the age on 14
  • by an adult more than 10 years older than the minor,
  • in which the minor was intoxicated and
  • the adult was aware of the intoxication (he gave her champagne and a quaalude)

Section 288
(i) Except as provided in Section 288, any person over
the age of 21 years who participates in an act of sexual
penetration with another person who is under 16 years of
age shall be guilty of a felony.

(j) Any person who participates in an act of sexual
penetration with another person who is under 14 years
of age and who is more than 10 years younger than he
or she shall be punished by imprisonment in the state
prison for three, six, or eight years.
Section 289
(d) Any person who commits an act of sexual penetration,
and the victim is at the time unconscious of the nature
of the act and this is known to the person committing the
act or causing the act to be committed, shall be punished
by imprisonment in the state prison for three, six, or
eight years.
As used in this subdivision, "unconscious of
the nature of the act" means incapable of resisting because
the victim meets one of the following conditions:

(1) Was unconscious or asleep.
(2) Was not aware, knowing, perceiving, or cognizant that
the act occurred.
(3) Was not aware, knowing, perceiving, or cognizant of
the essential characteristics of the act due to the
perpetrator's fraud in fact.
(4) Was not aware, knowing, perceiving, or cognizant of
the essential characteristics of the act due to the
perpetrator's fraudulent representation that the sexual
penetration served a professional purpose when it served no
professional purpose.
(e) Any person who commits an act of sexual penetration
when the victim is prevented from resisting by any
intoxicating or anesthetic substance, or any
controlled substance, and this condition was known,
or reasonably should have been known by the accused,
shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison
for a period of three, six, or eight years.
This is no "little mistake". It is felonious sexual assault of a minor. That is something for which I am not able to find forgiveness. Regardless of someone's "genius".

The fact that so many in the film and artistic community are coming to this pedophile's defense turns my stomach.

But, as much as I would like to see this man punished with the fullest extent of the the law, we need to listen to what the survivor has asked for.

She wants to be left alone and has been asking for the state to drop the case since 1997. It's reprehensible that the state has ignored her pleas. And ignored them for more than a decade.

Judge Rittenband was not acting on my behalf or in my best interest when he refused to allow the plea bargain...which did not involve additional jail time for Mr. Polanski.

The continued publicity surrounding this case has been so intense at times that it has changed my life forever from what it might have been...

I have recovered from the events of March 10, 1977. I have moved on and am very happy with my life. I feel I can also recover from the traumatic effect of the continued publicity, if this situation could only finally be resolved. I have long awaited the day that this issue is put to rest once and for all, and I am hopeful that this time may be at hand.
May 28th, 1997
Letter from Samantha Geimer to the Hon. Larry P. Fidler, LA Superior Court
*in 1997, Ms Geimer chose to give up her anonymity

Because you know what?

She's the one who gets to pick.

Not me, who'd like to smack him and take half of his income from the last 30 years to pay for recovery programs for survivors, or some asshole who thinks that Polanski only made a "little mistake" and that he should instead of jail be given a cookie, a pat on the head and an award for his films, or you and whatever you may think - but her.

The girl that he raped.

So drop it. Let her go on with her life as she chooses to live it. Without having to be reminded about the assault by seeing it played out in the media every time a Polanski film opens.

Give her some peace. As she defines it.

Then, lets go at the people who think that what Polanski did wasn't a big deal, figure out what's wrong with them and fix it. And let's go at a system that defines justice for the victim, rather than the other way around.

Because something is terribly, terribly broken.

*The prosecution and Polanski had agreed to a plea deal, avoiding a trial, when the judge changed the deal. General consensus is that the judge got cold feet because the deal, while it avoided putting the survivor through the trauma of trial, also meant no additional incarceration for Polanski (who had already spent 40 some days in a facility receiving a psych evaluation). When the judge indicated that he would require Polanski to serve an additional 40 days in jail, he fled the country. If he wasn't famous, the result of all of the above would have undoubtedly been different. But he was, and he is, and....


The Other Richard said...

I agree with you that we need to have a go at the people who think that what Polanski did was not a big deal. And not only them, but at the very concept that there are people whose contribution to society is so great that it excuses or erases any harm they may do to an individual member of that society. This monstrous idea is at the heart of much of the defense of Polanski and should have no place in a civilized, democratic, humanistic society such as we claim to be. Roman Polanski is an accomplished filmmaker and great artist who well deserves all of the awards and accolades he has been given. But he is also a sexual predator who well deserves to suffer punishment and approbation for the crime to which he plead guilty and was duly convicted of.

This leads to where I disagree with your conclusion that we, or more specifically the LA County Prosecutor’s Office, should drop it. On August 8, 1977, in Superior Court of the State of California for the County of Los Angeles, the Honorable Laurence J. Rittenbrand presiding, Roman Raymond Polanski knowingly and publicly waived his Constitutional right to a trial by a jury of his peers and his Constitutional right against self-incrimination and plead guilty to one count of Unlawful Sexual Intercourse. (ref. http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0928091polanskiplea1.html pp. 6-12 inclusive). At this point, whether or not any sentence was imposed, he became a convicted felon.

Because his victim was a minor under 14 years of age, California law mandated a psychiatric examination before sentencing to determine if Polanski was a Mentally Disordered Sex Offender. Rittenbrand referred the matter to the California Probation Office and ordered Polanski to report to a state prison for a 90-day period for this mandated psychiatric evaluation, but granted him a stay of 90 days and allowed him to travel out of the country. Polanski returned to California at the end of the 90 day stay and reported to Chino State Prison (now known as the California Institution for Men) for his evaluation and was released after 42 days.

The examining psychiatrists and Polanski’s probation officer recommended probation for Polanski, as was expected by both the prosecutor and the defense when the original plea agreement was made. As an aside I would mention that in a plea agreement, a defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge in return for a recommendation for leniency in sentencing by the prosecutor. In the vast majority of cases, the judge will follow the prosecutor’s recommendation. However, the judge is not bound by this recommendation in determining sentencing and in this case, Rittenbrand indicated that he was considering having Polanski serve out the remainder of the original 90 day evaluation period (this is the origin of the “additional” 48 days) and would recommend that the Immigration and Naturalization Service deport Polanski as a convicted felon.

At this point, Polanski had the option to withdraw his plea and assert his right to a jury trial (ibid p. 12) but instead chose to flee the country.

As far as the legal system is concerned, the victim’s participation in the case of The People of the State of California vs. Roman Raymond Polanski ended with his guilty plea in August of 1977. That it has not is due to sensationalist journalism and diversionary tactics put out by Polanski’s defenders and supporters. Yes, the victim should be left alone to find whatever peace and healing she can. She should have been left alone for the past 32 years. But Polanski should be sentenced for, and serve out his sentence for, the crime he was convicted of. For us as a society to do otherwise is to accede to the belief in an elite that is permitted to victimize others and to grant Roman Polanski membership in that elite.

Jacq Jones said...

thanks for your comment! i appreciate your perspective. it's a tough one for me, but i can really see your point.