Thursday, October 01, 2009

Rape is never okay...unless you also happen to make Great Art

For the last several days, I've been appalled, disgusted, disheartened, and enraged by the Hollywood response to Roman Polanski's arrest.  I've also been enraged by most of the media response I've seen.  Even the articles which come out in support of extraditing him and making him face justice seem at times to entirely miss the point.

Case in point: this editorial piece from the Washington Post.

The author acknowledges that Polanski drugged and raped his victim and that she said "no," and yet he calls it "sex" not once, but twice.  NEWSFLASH: rape is not sex.  And you undermine your point that Polanski must be held accountable for his "sordid" crime when you confuse the two.

Even more disturbing are articles like this one from the Irish Independent.  Although the overall message seems to be that gee, well, hm, I guess he should be extradited and brought to "justice," the author, Chris Ayres, calls Polanski a "fugitive from a sex case," and that's just the beginning.  Ronald Harwood (the screen writer for The Pianist) is quoted as saying that Polanski's arrest is "vindictive and mean."  Can I get a WTF?!  And for some reason, the author of the piece feels the need to dive into Polanski's "tragic" past, citing the many hardships he's faced, as if any of it is somehow relevant to the fact that he raped someone and then fled justice.  And then he reveals what are perhaps his true feelings on the topic in this sentence: "Alas, the American public also doesn't seem to be on his side."

Alas?  Alas?  Alas, WHAT?  Alas, it would be such a fucking tragedy if this "brilliant" man were actually held accountable (to whatever degree is even possible anymore after 30 years of comfortable freedom in France) for raping a child?

Well, shucks, Mr. Ayres, that would be a tragedy, wouldn't it?  Because if even a rich, famous, highly respected, Oscar-winning film director like Roman Polanski could be sent to jail for rape, then we just might have to concede the possibly the rape really isn't okay, no matter who you are.  We just might have to begin the lengthy and difficult process of changing our views, of taking a long, hard look at what the fuck is wrong with our culture in the first place that made it acceptable for this man to do what he did, that made it acceptable for him to seek and find shelter from accountability, that made us think it was okay to reward this criminal with prestigious awards in absentia, and that is now causing a range of celebrities from Terry Gilliam to Whoopi Goldberg to rush to his defense and demand his release.

Most disgusting of all is when Ayres calls Polanski "a 76-year-old man, who has been the victim of far worse crimes than the one he allegedly perpetrated 30 years ago [emphasis mine]."  Gosh, I'm sorry, I must have missed the fucking memo where we all learned that violent crime occurs on a scale of pretty-dang-horrific to not-really-all-that-devastating.  I'm glad he cleared that up for me.  Now I can feel so much better about rape, knowing that's it really not all that bad in the grand scheme of things.  And there's no "allegedly"; Polanski admitted the crime.

According to RAINN, a woman is sexually assaulted every two minutes in the United States alone.  EVERY TWO MINUTES.  And considering that just about every single woman I know has been sexually assaulted at some point in her life and has not reported it, we can only assume that any available statistics represent a pretty serious underestimation of the figures.

If Polanski were just some dude off the street, would people be coming out in droves to declare that his 30 years of living as a free man and doing more or less whatever the hell he wanted were punishment enough?  Somehow, I don't think so.  Yet sadly enough, this case is not as much of an anomaly as it might seem.  We live in a culture of rape apologism where rape and sexual assault are routinely excused, justified, downplayed, or just outright ignored.  How the hell else could rapists rape as often as they do, with at least 15 of 16 rapists walking away from their crime scott-free?

This shit needs to stop.  Rape is a crime of violence.  It doesn't matter who the rapist is.  It doesn't matter who the victim is.  It doesn't matter how hard she fought or what she was wearing or how much she had to drink.  It doesn't matter whether she knew the rapist, whether she'd gone out with him, whether she kissed him or went back to his place or had sex with fifty thousand other men first.  No one has the right to rape another person, and anyone who does must be held accountable, must receive the message that rape is not okay and will not be tolerated, each and every time, no exceptions.  How else can we ever build a society in which a woman can move freely through her world without fearing for her physical and emotional safety at every turn?

I can only hope and pray that our justice system takes this opportunity to declare loudly and without apology that no one has immunity from accountability for rape, not even Roman Polanski.
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