Roman Polanski's supporters sending wrong message about rape, minimizing director's crimes, critics say
Defenders of Roman Polanski have not minced words in their criticism of L.A. prosecutors for arresting the director three decades after he fled the U.S. before being sentenced for sexually abusing a 13-year-old girl.French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called Polanski's arrest a "bit sinister."
His agent, Jeff Berg, has said that justice has already been served in the Polanski case.
Directors Martin Scorsese, David Lynch and Woody Allen are among dozens in the film industry to sign a petition calling for the immediate release of Polanski. Academy-Award winning film producer Harvey Weinstein, also a signatory to the petition, wrote in the UK Indpendent calling the original plea deal in Polanski's case a "miscarriage of justice."
"Whatever you think about the so-called crime, Polanski has served his time," Weinstein wrote.
But such comments don't sit well with advocates of sexual abuse victims, who think Polanski's supporters in their zeal to free Polanski are sending the wrong message and downplaying the seriousness of the crime.
"Most troubling to me is that people just don’t understand the impact a crime like this has on a 13-year-old girl, and the fact that he has made some fabulous films is utterly irrelevant," said Katie Buckland, executive director of the California Women's Law Center. "It sends a message that the rich and powerful can get away with crimes that no one else can get away with."
The Polanski case has generated much debate about why prosecutors acted now. It's complicated somewhat by the fact that his victim, now in her 40s, has publicly said she believe he should not face prison time and that the matter should be dropped.
But Buckland said it is irrelevant that the victim did not want to press the case -- and that prosecutors should be praised for sticking with the case.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said he hears echos of "Polanski's apologists" in the scandal over child abuse in the Roman Catholic priests.
"In both cases we have the public and secular authorities giving every benefit of the doubt to clear wrongdoers just by virtue of their exalted positions. You could easily say if Polanski was a priest, he would be easily jailed," Clohessy said. "Somehow if you can make movies, dance well, shoot a basketball, essentially accumulate wealth or power and then you are somehow exempt from the basic societal laws and expectations. By not pursuing Polanski, we send a very disturbing message to criminals. Make yourself popular, get good lawyers, flee the country and you are home free."
UCLA law professor Peter Arenella said the intensity of the debate surrounding Polanski is less about legal issues than it is about changed social norms, although it does not in any way excuse what happened but it may explain it.
“I’m not saying at the time of Mr. Polanski’s case that his behavior was justifiable under the prevailing social norms. It was still unjustifiable behavior on his part," Arenella said.
But he said there was "the same sensivity to the abuse of power issues."
-- Andrew Blankstein
Photo: Director Roman Polanski arrives for a screening at the 60th Cannes Film Festival in May 2007. Credit: Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP/Getty Images
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