Feature

Polanski: The long reach of justice

Acting on a U.S. extradition request, Swiss authorities arrested director Roman Polanski, who 32 years ago skipped bail in Los Angeles after being charged with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

“From the uproar, you’d think a U.S. missile had hit Europe,” said USA Today in an editorial—not that a child rapist was finally being brought to justice. Swiss authorities last week, acting on a U.S. extradition request, arrested director Roman Polanski, who 32 years ago skipped bail in Los Angeles and fled to France after being charged with sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. European officials and pundits are now whining about “U.S. overreach,” urging Swiss authorities to set the 76-year-old free while he battles extradition. “I agree with the European view that Americans tend to be prudish and hypocritical about sex,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. But “this isn’t about a genius who is being hounded for flouting society’s hidebound conventions.” As part of a plea bargain, Polanski admitted that he’d drugged the 13-year-old with Quaaludes and alcohol and then, ignoring her protests, violated her orally, anally, and vaginally. That “deserves harsher punishment than three decades of gilded exile.”

It’s not that clear-cut, said Anne Applebaum in TheWashingtonpost.com. Polanski said he hadn’t known the girl’s real age, and that he bolted only after a publicity-seeking judge rejected a plea deal approved by prosecutors. His victim, now 45, says she forgives him and does not want a trial. Moreover, Polanski had an “understandable fear of irrational punishment.” His mother died in Auschwitz, and in 1969, police briefly considered him a suspect when his pregnant wife was murdered by the Manson cult. Polanski has paid for his crime “in many, many ways”—in stigma, legal bills, and being denied the chance to set foot in the U.S. Why go after him now? asked Patrick Goldstein in the Los Angeles Times. California’s justice system is in crisis. “You’d hope that L.A. County prosecutors had better things to do than hounding a film director for a 32-year-old sex crime.”

You cannot be serious, said Kate Harding in Salon.com. “Roman Polanski raped a child.” Yet Polanski’s defenders now want us to believe that this slimeball has “suffered enough?” As for the real victim in this case, it’s understandable that she would prefer not to dredge up this ugliness. Society, however, prosecutes crimes not to avenge victims but to seek justice. Prosecuting Polanski would make it clear that when you rape a child—even if you are rich, well-connected, and make “swell movies”—you will pay for your crime, no matter how long it takes.

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