The New York Times recently published an article rehashing the story of Roman Polanski, who was detained in Switzerland for deportation. Polanski now faces punishment for a 32-year-old conviction on one count of having unlawful sex with a minor—that was once viewed as a “lapse in judgment” by an otherwise clean individual. In 1977, at the age of 13, Samantha Geimer was drugged and raped by Polanski. Mr. Polanski fled the United States when the possibility of jail time and deportation was indicated by Judge Laurence J. Rittenband.
The most interesting part of this seemingly “normal” case of unlawful sex with a minor is the astoundingly relaxed manner in which sex crimes were viewed in the 1977 era. A report prepared by Polanski’s probation officers characterized the rape as an exercise of bad judgment and suggested that Polanski receive probation rather than actual punishment. This “slap on the wrist” recommendation was perpetuated by the laissez-faire view of sex crimes in this era, in addition to the victimization of Polanski. From the New York Times article:
[His probation officer’s report] described his birth to a Polish national father, Riszard Polanski, and a Russian national mother, Bula Katz, and told how his Jewish family was confined behind barbed wire in a Krakow ghetto during the German occupation.
In 1941, the report noted, Mr. Polanski’s mother was taken to Auschwitz, not to return. Later it said, “the defendant’s father cut the wires permitting the defendant to escape” the ghetto, to spend the war with Polish families.
Recapping the defendant’s background, the report said Mr. Polanski was blocked from attending advanced art school after the war “because of his Jewish origins,” lost his religious faith, and twice suffered a fractured skull, once as the result of an assault in Poland, once after a car accident. It noted a first marriage in Poland, and a second to the actress Sharon Tate, who, it said, “was killed by members of the Manson gang in Los Angeles in the well-documented case in 1968.”
I am sure these devastating life events endured by Polanski were riveting to his probation officer and certain Hollywood VIP’s who put effort into securing Polanski’s good character, but they are not by any stretch of the imagination justification for rape. In fact, as there is no justification for rape, Polanski’s broken past is completely irrelevant in defending his actions toward Geimer. It is alarming when rapists are victimized in this manner. Through the eyes of Polanski’s former probation officer, the emphasis is placed on the trials and tribulations of the rapist, rather than what the victim has endured for the past 32 years. Furthermore, cultural differences, the alleged provocation by the 13-year-old victim, and the speculative unlikelihood that Polanski would commit a subsequent offense are absolutely no reason that this monster should have been gifted with the lesser punishment of probation—not in that era, and certainly not in this era. Luckily, current trends are working towards stricter punishments for sex offenders, although modern day law enforcement and judiciaries constantly struggle with policing the parole of sex offenders.