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Roman Polanski and rape apology: A round-up

October 4, 2009

Trigger Warning

I’m not sure what I have to add to the dialogue around the Roman Polanski case (except for more anger and disgust), but I think it’s too important not to mention. To me, defense of Roman Polanski is the epitome of sexual violence permissibility, rape apology, racism, classism, and privilege in our culture.

Here’s Ann Applebaum, from the Washington Post:

He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.

I am certain there are many who will harrumph that, following this arrest, justice was done at last. But Polanski is 76. To put him on trial or keep him in jail does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. If he weren’t famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all.

In fact, I think it’s the exact opposite, I really think that if Polanski weren’t white, or if he weren’t rich, or if he weren’t in the privileged position of a celebrity, nobody would be defending him. The idea that not being able to receive his oscar is enough punishment for the rape of a 13-year old girl just absolutely disgusts me, I don’t know what else to say. Which is why I’m throwing it over to some incredible bloggers:

Lauren, at Feministe, writes about how rape is not just once incident, but continues to affect someone throughout their life. I think this is important to talk about because a lot of the arguments are “it happened 32 years ago, hasn’t he suffered enough?” Forgetting that victim has also had to deal with the ramifications throughout her lifetime.

What does rape do to you? Afterward? It changed me; there is before and after. Before, a child, playing with Barbies, looking sideways at boys, wondering. After, confusion. Depression. A litany of fuck-ups and fuck-its, whatevers, mistakes, trusting no one, least of all myself. Before, sex was mysterious; after, miasma. I was tarred as a Lolita. I was called jail bait.

Rape is not the only assault. Around rape is a large segment of the population that questions the victim, a culture that looks down on victims for allowing themselves to be victimized, or keep them victimized, questions about the victim’s credibility, questions about the legacy of rape and how bad it is, because how bad is rape really? Rape, because various levels and forms of sexual assault are systemic and pervasive across all societies, exists alongside one’s experiences of unwanted touching, wanted touching, sexual objectification, sexual desire, sexual harassment, incest, love, leering eyes, cat calls, roaming hands, consent, confusion, tits, vagina, rectum, penis, mouth, rape and not-rape, all of it loaded, all of it veering at rape’s ugly legacy, co-mingling, the legacy that tells us to be more careful, to dress more conservatively, to BE BETTER AT BEING VULNERABLE, or BE MORE POWERFUL, or BE MORE FEARFUL, or GET OVER IT ALREADY. Rape leaks into healthy, consensual experiences. It lingers. It pervades.

Kate Harding at Salon makes a comparison to the controversy that occurred when Dakota Fanning acted in Hounddog which depicted rape of a child, and examines what views of young female sexuality allow people to condemn Fanning and defend Polanski in the same breath.

This is what too many people fail to understand about adolescent girls when it comes to sex, rape and personal agency: The experience of being alive in their bodies makes them sometimes sexual, sometimes curious, sometimes desirous, sometimes totally innocent — and at all times vulnerable to other people’s interpretations of their behavior, of their decisions, of their very existence in bodies equipped with brand-new womanly features. And all they have to counter those interpretations are their own voices — voices that are routinely ignored, dismissed and silenced. What does a kid that age know, after all? At least until an older man says, she knew damn well what she was doing.

I really like how she explains this because I really do think we have a fundamental misunderstanding of young female sexuality in America. The idea that young women are unaware of sex or sexuality is bullshit, because from the time our breasts develop (or even before) young women know that they are sexual beings as they are treated as such by men and in public spaces. But their sexuality is not placed upon them either. Young girls do have an awareness of their bodies and their desires, and it’s perfectly healthy. None of this however, takes away her right to say “no.”

Lastly, Jaclyn Friedman has a great piece at Huffpo about how we are all victims of this violence.

But rape isn’t just a crime against one person, and we don’t prosecute it in order to fulfill any one victim’s needs or wishes. Rape is a crime against the social fabric that binds all of us together. The act violates what should be one of our core values as a civilization: that every person of every gender and age has the right to bodily autonomy — to basic safety in our bodies. When that right is violated and the perpetrator goes unpunished, it makes all of us less safe. Not just because there’s one more rapist on the loose, but because that lack of accountability sends a message to other would-be rapists: Go ahead and rape someone. The rest of us don’t care that much, as long as it’s not us or someone we love. In this case, we might add a caveat: Especially if you’re rich and talented and have powerful friends.

This is the reason why the plaintiff in any criminal rape case isn’t the victim — it’s the government. Rape cases are pursued by a representative of all of us because all of us are harmed when someone rapes. It’s heartbreaking to have to explain this still, after so many decades of activism and education and prevention work on the part of so many countless people, but it’s hardly surprising.

I completely feel Friedman’s heartbreak. How are we as a culture still defending rape? How do women (and men) continue to suffer from sexual violence? How are we still allowing this? I’m so thankful for spaces like Happy Bodies and bloggers like these who give me hope that we can have a world without rape, where “art” doesn’t trump women’s bodies, where privilege isn’t a defense for violence.

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