Here in California, we take our celebrities very seriously. We
love it when they become immersed in controversy perhaps because it
provides a diversion from some of the other more complex and difficult
issues of the day. Here we have a controversy that does both. Although
it has been decades since the crime and acknowledgement of it by Roman
Polanski, he used his money and fame to skirt any consequence until
now. His predicament has brought out many of Hollywood’s top
celebrities to his defense. At the same time, the issue of violence
against women, and sexual violence in particular continues to be a
serious concern in our society.
We at Speak
Out California are committed to women’s equality and dignity. It is one
of the fundamental principles of a just and equal society. Women’s
rights advocate and friend of Speak
Out California, Janice Rocco, has today’s guest
column on the subject.
Who is Roman Polanski?
A guest post by Janice Rocco of California National Organization for Women.
Who is Roman Polanski and what should the
consequences of his actions be? That question seems to have a
surprisingly different answer depending on one’s vantage point. To more
than 100 in the international film community who signed a petition
demanding his “immediate release”, he is apparently first and foremost
“one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers” whose freedom should not
be taken away. To me, a women who was a child growing up in Los Angeles
when Roman Polanski pled guilty to a sex crime against a child, he is a
rapist who fled justice and has yet to take responsibility for a crime
that harmed a 13 year old girl, her family and the rest of us who have
watched him evade justice and thumb his nose at the legal system for
more than three decades.
The fact that violence against women is commonplace in this
country and around the globe does not make it acceptable or mean that
when a talented celebrity is the perpetrator that we should ignore that
a serious crime took place. The fact that in popular culture, including
many films, women are often portrayed in demeaning ways and violence is
often sexualized does not mean that women and their families and
friends aren’t devastated by the crime of rape each and every day.
How many women in this country and others, especially women
who have survived a sexual assault, watched the Academy Awards the year
that Polanski won the best director award and felt anger, pain or
disgust as an audience full of his colleagues in the film industry
cheered for this man who still doesn’t have the decency to turn himself
a lot of people have been educated about rape since 1977 when Polanski
pled guilty to raping a 13 year old girl, some still want to believe
that rape is something that only takes place in a dark alley and is
committed by a stranger. Reality is that the majority of rapes are
committed by someone known to the victim. That
doesn’t make the crime any less traumatic or mean that anything less
than a prison sentence is appropriate for those who commit this violent
One shouldn’t have to read the grand jury testimony
of a 13 year old girl to understand the seriousness of what occurred
back in 1977. Polanski was charged with giving a drug to a minor,
committing a lewd act upon a person less than 14, rape of a minor, rape
by use of a drug, oral copulation and sodomy. All the charges were
felonies. He was allowed to plead guilty to the charge of unlawful
sexual intercourse with a minor in order to spare the young woman the
difficulty of having to testify publicly when her identity was not yet
known to the public.
Thirty-two years have passed since Polanski’s guilty plea and
he hadn’t spent a
day in jail since fleeing this country until authorities in Switzerland
took Polanski into custody last weekend. The number of years that a
rich and powerful man has successfully evaded justice, should be
considered when he is sentenced for his crime, but only from the
standpoint that his evasion of justice should bring a more severe
penalty than he would have received three decades ago for what already
was a very serious crime.
There are those who say that since the woman who survived this
rape over thirty years ago has forgiven Polanski and wants to put this
behind her, he should not be punished by the legal system. Those people
forget that this is a case of The People of the State of California vs.
Roman Polanski and that justice has yet to be served. If
Roman Polanski wants to help put this behind the woman who he harmed so
many years ago, he should stop fighting extradition and return to
California for his sentencing hearing for the crime to which he pled
Justice is rarely done when celebrities commit crimes. The
victims are generally re-victimized by the media coverage and often the
perpetrators receive little in the way of punishment for their crimes.
It is long past time that Roman Polanski faces the consequences for his
crimes. Justice should not be delayed even one more day.
– Janice Rocco, Southwest Regional Director of the National Organization for Women (NOW)