I’ve been reading many opinions about Roman Polanski’s recent arrest for his admitted statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl, Samantha Geimer, over thirty years ago and his fleeing the country when his plea bargain seemed it might fall through. So many people have come to Polanski’s defense. One op-ed in particular, written by Robert Harris, friend of Polanski and author of the book, The Ghost, for which Polanski directed the movie version, offers unequivocal support of the director and ends his op-ed with this:
“But Ms. Geimer wants it dropped, to shield her family from distress, and Mr. Polanski’s own young children, to whom he is a doting father, want him home. He is no threat to the public. The original judicial procedure was undeniably murky. So cui bono, as the Romans used to say — who benefits?”
Great question. Let’s look at it through the lens that asks: ‘What does the most good and the least harm to ourselves and others?’ At first glance, Robert Harris has a point. The victim doesn’t want Polanski arrested, tried, and brought to justice; Polanski certainly doesn’t want to be arrested and face the legal consequences of his actions and nor do his fans, fellow directors, and myriad supporters. From a cursory view, it could seem so overblown at this point, which is probably why so many are saying things like, “It was so long ago.” and “He’s not a danger to society.” and “Even the victim doesn’t want him punished.”
But this is a dangerous way to answer the question “Who benefits?” If Roman Polanski were never arrested, these are some of the societal implications:
- People in positions of fame, power, and wealth can successfully evade justice and garner international support at the same time. As Geraldine Ferraro wrote in a “Room for Debate” in the New York Times: “Too bad for Bernie Madoff that he wasn’t as smart as Polanski. He would have taken his wife, brother, nephew, sons and their families and a billion or two and gone to France to help their economy. Then when the Ponzi scheme was exposed, the French would have, if consistent, refused extradition. He could have stayed for the rest of his life in luxury. Just imagine.”
- People who are raped, but who don’t want to go through the ordeal of confronting their rapists, can absolve them legally. While Polanski may never have raped again and may not be a danger to society, the precedent of leaving the trial of rapists solely up to the victim endangers all of us and shouldn’t be the criteria for whether to prosecute a rapist. For years, rape victims rarely spoke out because defense attorneys often eviscerated them, and juries let their rapists go free. The commitment of the state to prosecute rape despite the wishes of rape survivors provides greater protection to potential future victims.
- There’s a time limit on justice. That would mean we shouldn’t bring to justice war criminals when we finally catch them decades after their atrocities. That means that if you can just flee long enough, you’re off the hook.
- Fleeing is a reasonable and good option (provided you have the wherewithal to do so) and there are no consequences.
Who benefits from Roman Polanski’s arrest? We all do. We all benefit from a judicial system that prosecutes rape and ensures that those who evade justice are not successful. We all benefit when our legal system treats the wealthy and famous no differently than the poor and disenfranchised.
True, Polanski and his family don’t benefit directly from his arrest. Most of the time the families of people facing justice don’t benefit from the trial and potential incarceration or punishment of loved ones, but that’s a ridiculous criteria for bringing someone to justice, and even Polanski’s family ultimately benefits from the umbrella of a justice system that serves to protect us all.
If Ms. Geimer were glad to have her rapist arrested, I suspect that most of those supporting Polanski would be holding their tongues, even if they were secretly still dismayed at his arrest. They would likely realize that Polanski perpetrated a terrible crime against a girl and then used his privilege to flee and live a charmed life in France, and that if that girl, now woman, wanted her opportunity to see justice done, she should have it. That she doesn’t want this doesn’t change the fact that Roman Polanski committed a terrible crime against a girl and then used his privilege to flee and live a charmed life in France.
We benefit from living in a country in which those who perpetrate terrible crimes must face the consequences and those who flee justice can still be caught decades later.
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