Roman Polanski, the celebrated film director who has been on the lam for more than thirty years, is now sitting in a Swiss jail awaiting the possibility of extradition to the United States. He may finally have to face the legal consequences of his admitted crime of having non-consensual sex with a 13-year-old girl after plying her with drugs and alcohol.
The Hollywood elite and some snobs in his current home country of France are crying foul. “Absolutely horrifying,” lamented the current French culture minister, Frederic Mitterand.
As Dennis Miller pointed out on the O’Reilly Factor last night after having read chilling testimony from the case, what is truly horrifying was Polanski’s crime against the girl. And this was not some sort of youthful indiscretion on Polanski’s part. He was 44 when he took the 13-year-old to Jack Nicholson’s house on the pretense of using her in a photography shoot for a French magazine and proceeded (in the words of his victim) to give her
“champagne and a piece of Quaalude. And then he took advantage of me. I said no, repeatedly, but he wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
The coward then ran off to Europe after pleading guilty, believing that the judge was about to renege on the deal Polanski had worked out to avoid prison time. And he has been living the grand life in France and Switzerland (where he has a second home) ever since. That is, until he was arrested in Switzerland on a warrant from the United States as he tried to enter the country yet again, this time to receive an award. Just because he has a home in Switzerland, he is not as protected there as he is in France. It seems he pushed his luck just once too often.
One of Polanski’s Swiss neighbors, in a bid to gain sympathy for the filmmaker, said:
“Everyone loves him. He built a beautiful chalet with old wood. He skis like crazy. He’s very family-oriented. I’ve never seen a man who changed his life so much.”
Well, Polanski may just have to hang up his skis for awhile. And the fact that he is a changed man or an accomplished film director is irrelevant.
Polanski himself suffered the agony of the crazed murder of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, at the hands of the Charles Manson cult. Ironically, Susan Atkins, a member of the cult who admitted to ruthlessly stabbing Tate, recently died in prison from brain cancer less than a month after a parole board had turned down a bid for compassionate release. Did Polanski come to her defense before the parole board? Did he say he forgave her and plead for her immediate release? Even if he wrote a letter to the parole board, should it make a difference?
Suppose that Susan Atkins had somehow managed to escape right after committing her crime and had re-established herself with a new identity, living a quiet family life for all these years and performing charity work for her local church. Would that wipe away her heinous, 40-year-old crime? Is that what Polanski would consider a fair outcome if she had been apprehended 40 years later? And again, even if he were prepared to forgive and forget, is that the last word on the subject for a judicial system that is set up to both punish and deter serious crimes?
Of course, I am not suggesting that what Polanski did to the 13 year-old-girl — who is now willing to forgive the crime and move on — approaches the horrible murder of his wife. But neither was it a trivial crime, by any stretch of the imagination.
Moreover, simply dropping the case at this point would send two bad signals. First, it would convey the message that the rich and famous — with lots of backing from their rich, famous and powerful friends — operate under a separate system of justice than the rest of us. And it would send the signal that sexual molestation of a minor is a serious enough matter to merit significant jail time.
Just last night on the O’Reilly Factor, for example, there was a segment about a Missouri judge who unconscionably let a convicted child molestor off with probation. He refused to explain his decision to a Factor producer who had caught up to him in a public place. Is this the direction in which we want the judicial system to go? If Polanski gets away with his crime, will other lenient judges use that as a precedent in their courts to go easy on child molestors?
Polanski should drop the victim act and come back to the United States to face long-delayed justice for the crime he committed. Perhaps, when all is said and done, the original deal that he thought he had worked out for time served will be honored. Or perhaps he will face a harsher sentence. It is up to our justice system to decide. Not Hollywood or the French.