justice

Thoughts on “A Case of Morals”

The guy in this video (Jay Smooth) makes a series of intelligent, thoughtful arguments as to why he feels Roman Polanski should be extradited to the United States and tried for his 1977 rape of a 13-year-old girl. I have great respect for everything he says here.

Now, to borrow one of Smooth’s turns of phrase: let me be clear. I absolutely believe that Polanski committed this crime. He took a 13-year-old to a house under the guise of taking modeling photographs. He fed her drugs and alcohol, and then he forced himself upon her sexually while she repeatedly asked him to stop. There is no question of consent here. This was rape.

That being said, I am struggling with an element of the argument made in this video. The victim has been very clear that she does not want this case pursued. Jay argues that although the needs of the victim are important, sometimes a crime is seen as being committed against the state, or against the public good, and therefore needs to be prosecuted, even if it’s against the victim’s wishes. I have very strong feelings about this idea. The “state” was not raped. The “public good” was not raped. Samantha Geimer was raped, and she has chosen to forgive Polanski in order to move on with her life, so that she is not defined by this one terrible event. She has asked that the case be dropped so that she is not forced to re-live her trauma over and over, and so that she and her family won’t once again be forced into the public eye. Shouldn’t her wishes be respected?

Do I think that Polanski took the coward’s way out by fleeing to France rather than facing the consequences of his actions? Yes. Do I think people should be accountable for their behaviour? Absolutely. But if that can only be achieved in this case through the further victimization of someone who has already suffered so much, is that justice? Why is a collective need for vengeance seen as more important than Samantha’s desire for closure? If we ignore the wishes of the one person who was most affected by this crime in order to prove that “the system works”, doesn’t that actually prove that the system is broken?

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2 thoughts on “Thoughts on “A Case of Morals”

  1. Hi Joan,
    This is a wonderful declaration on behalf of the victim, and a fascinating question on the nature of justice. I wonder, though, about the assumption that everyone wishing for Polanski to face justice is working out of a “collective need for vengeance” which flies in the face of “Samantha’s desire for closure.” While I agree that many are motivated by a misunderstanding that justice should be about exacting revenge, isn’t it also worth ensuring that, in a highly-public example, there is a firm social dedication to ensuring that the escape route Polanski took is not open to others? At the very least, shouldn’t we strive to undercut the legitimacy that he appears to be lending to statutory rape (eg, that 1979 interview in which his defense was “Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”) and to take away that sense of “well, Polanski got away with it”?
    Perhaps the solution is to allow the victim to remove herself from further attempts at prosecution, although I suppose we cannot control the ravenous media from continuing to hound her nevertheless.
    In any case, thanks for more food for thought.
    D

  2. Hi Derek,

    It’s so nice to have you here. Thank so much for your comments. You make excellent points. Although I have taken a pretty firm position here, I am still struggling with the issues that you have addressed.

    How do we effectively find a balance between respecting the victim’s wishes, and sending out a clear message that actions like Polanski’s will not be tolerated in a civil society? I understand that by dropping the charges at the this point, there’s a danger of saying that with enough money, time and resources, a person can outrun their actions and avoid responsibility. I am certainly not comfortable with that kind of precedent.

    But I can’t help but come back to Samantha here, particularly because of the nature of the offense. Rape takes power, consent and control away from the victim. In our current court system, and in this case in particular, the traumatic experience of the victim is co-opted by the government and its legal representatives and used to set a precedent or create an object lesson, with or without her consent. To me this is re-victimization of the worst kind. I can see the merits of an argument that this is a necessary sacrifice to the altar of justice, to ensure the future protection of society. I just think the lamb would take a different position.

    This is such a complex issue to me. Thanks for giving me more pieces to integrate into the puzzle.

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