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Published: Friday, 10/2/2009

Polanski must be brought to justice, even after all these years

SHE was a 13-year-old kid when a 40-something movie director performed oral sex, intercourse, and sodomy on her after drugging her with champagne and Quaaludes. He was the world renowned Roman Polanski, who made such celebrated films as Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby before he fled Hollywood like a coward.

She was the reason he ran. Actually, it was the presiding judge in the California case who made him flee. Polanski had agreed to plead guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse in hopes of walking out of court a free man. But on the eve of his sentencing, fearing the judge would renege on the plea bargain and give him longer jail time, he fled.

Rather than face the consequences of drugging and raping the girl, he jetted off to live in luxurious exile, direct movies, and continue to win praise for his film artistry. The girl settled for an undisclosed settlement and a nightmare that would haunt her forever.

Three decades later, Samantha Geimer, now a 45-year-old mother of three, doesn't want to go through it again. Not the intense publicity, the lurid details, or the memories of a young girl crying in the car as her rapist drove her home. She forgave the offender. Can't that be the end of any more legal proceedings? She won't forget how all hell broke loose in 1977 when her mother told police about her daughter's assault.

"The fallout was worse than what had happened that night," the victim told People magazine years ago. "Reporters and photographers came to my school and put my picture in a European tabloid with the caption 'Little Lolita.' They were all saying, 'Poor Roman Polanski, entrapped by a 13-year-old temptress.'•"

She was ostracized by classmates and friends. She shut down emotionally and rebelled. She dropped out of school, got pregnant at 18, and married at 19. She divorced and moved with her family to Hawaii, eventually marrying again and having two more children.

Now this. After 30 years of trying to put it behind her, including filing court papers imploring a Los Angeles judge to dismiss the charges against the director, it's back to square one.When Polanski, 76, arrived last weekend in Switzerland to accept a lifetime achievement award, he was arrested and the legal battle began to have him extradited to the United States. Why the Los Angeles arrest warrant now after decades of inaction is the subject of much conjecture.

Hollywood is up in arms, claiming it is the height of folly to stalk an aging man who has admitted his guilt and been forgiven by his victim. They say he has suffered enough in life, from fleeing the Krakow ghetto as a child to losing his mother in Auschwitz and his pregnant first wife, actress Sharon Tate to brutal murder.

They have a point, especially since the original prosecution of Polanski was arguably marred by missteps and alleged prosecutorial and judicial wrongdoing. And you can't blame Ms. Geimer, who shudders at the thought of becoming a tabloid sensation again, for wanting it to go away.

Yet the positions of the victim and friends of the fugitive are irrelevant to the crime committed. What is relevant is the law. Polanski broke it, then thumbed his nose at the legal process by escaping to France.

That is no trivial matter. Polanski committed a crime and bolted before sentencing, effectively taking matters into his own hands rather than face an outcome he could have appealed or otherwise challenged. That's how justice is supposed to be served, without exceptions for Oscar-winning directors. The Polanski case might have been concluded years ago but for the fact that he skipped town.

His powerful friends as well as the woman he tragically abused as a child say the man is being hounded on a "minor technicality." They are wrong. Like every other scofflaw on the lam, he is finally being held accountable for putting himself above the law.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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