Sunday, October 04, 2009

Contra Ostroy

Just to make a couple of things clear right up front:

- I'm not a fan of Roman Polanski's work. I've seen all or part of a few of his films, and the only one I didn't come out of wishing I had my two hours back on was Chinatown.

- From what I know about Roman Polanski, I don't like him much as a person, either. My understanding (and if anyone believes that the facts are in dispute, I'm sure they'll say so in comments) is that at the age of 44 or so, he plied a 13-year-old girl with drugs and alcohol, then raped her. No minimization of the act here, either -- even if that 13-year-old had been competent to consent despite being 13, despite having been fed intoxicants, and despite being substantially under both the physical control (alone with him in an environment he knew and she didn't) and mental "authority figure" dominance (big Hollywood director, promising an adolescent a career if she complied with his wishes) of Polanski, my understanding is that there wasn't even formal, let alone competent or informed, consent. She said "no" and he forcibly had sex with her anyway. There doesn't seem to be any ambiguity about the nature of the crime. It was savage, barbaric and evil.

- Had I been an adult and following the case, at the time he was arrested, charged and tried for the crime, I'd probably have hoped for a harsh sentence. Maybe even an inventive one. How about life in prison, castration on the first morning, the removed organs as his first meal, and no second meal until he cleaned his plate?

In summary, if Polanski looked to me for sympathy he'd receive none whatsoever. He disgusts me. Even if I appreciated his artistic endeavors I wouldn't consider them in any way a mitigating factor. Actually, quite the opposite -- he used his art-derived celebrity as a tool in the commission of his crime. His art doesn't redeem him. Rather, he besmirched his art with his crime.

All of that said, I posted the following comment on a Huffington Post op-ed by Andy Ostroy overnight. The comment hasn't been approved for publication at HuffPo, and may have been deep-sixed, but it's also posted at Facebook via the automatic linkage between the two sites:

[Quoting Ostroy] "In America, we don't let victims decide when our laws are enforced."

[Me] Maybe -- actually, more than maybe -- we should (that would put the kibosh on a lot of our more ridiculous laws, the ones banning activities that don't HAVE victims).

But if not, the least that anyone should be willing to do is refrain from abusing the victim by making her an unwilling participant in a crusade. She's moved for dismissal of the charges, and she's accepted a financial settlement with Polanski. He's no longer victimizing her. YOU are.

Back to clarifying things:

- In 1993, Polanski's victim, by then an adult, reached a civil settlement with him under which he was to pay her $500,000. It's not yet clear whether he ever did pay it -- the last court filing on the matter was in 1996, at which time he hadn't -- but at any rate the victim doesn't seem to be actively pursuing the matter at this time.

- Earlier this year, Polanski's victim went to court to seek dismissal of the charges against Polanski.

In short, the victim, at some point, stopped being a victim. Or at least she stopped being Roman Polanski's victim. Neither the criminal justice system nor the "get Polanski" commentariat have any legitimate claim to be acting or speaking on her behalf or in her interests -- and to the extent that either prosecutors or pundits make such a claim, it is they who are now victimizing her, by conscripting her as an unwilling actor in the drama they're putting on.

At some level, those so victimizing her understand what they're doing. Nearly every "get Polanski" piece I've read includes something like the following, also from the Ostroy column:

Another misguided element in Harris's defense of Polanski is that his victim, the now-45-year-old [name elided by KN@PPSTER*], wants the case dropped and forgotten. As psychologists will tell us, there is a very twisted dynamic that often occurs between victim and victimizer. [name elided by KN@PPSTER], at 13, was in no position to reconcile this horrific act. And it's likely had a profoundly negative affect on her throughout her adult life, which may be exactly why she needs to sweep this painful memory under the rug instead of having the self-confidence to demand justice for the man who stole her innocence.

What Ostroy is arguing here is that so long as having her remain a victim is useful to his argument, she should be considered incompetent to decline the honor. I don't know if that attitude is as evil as what Polanski did, but it's certainly evil in its own right.

Over at Facebook, one commenter has drawn some pretty broad conclusions from what I consider a very narrow argument. Those conclusions are his, not mine. I have very carefully not argued that Polanski shouldn't have been arrested, shouldn't be extradited, or shouldn't be punished. Maybe he should be -- but if he should be, the justification for it would have to be something other than the particular things he did to the particular victim in question. She claims, in essence, that she's been made whole for damages and has no further interest in pursuing the matter. That's her call, not Andy Ostroy's or anyone else's, to make.


* The closest I can come to honoring the former victim's wishes in this matter, while still discussing the matter, is to refrain from plastering her name all over my blog. So I have.

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