The XX Factor

Polanski Case About Rape, Not Nubile Hotness

Jessica, your observation about the probation officer’s report highlights the fatal flaw in Michael Cieply’s argument : Polanski’s case was more about 70s attitudes about forcible rape than about 70s attitudes towards sex with teenage girls. What Cieply discovers in investigating the soft hand the media and law enforcement took with Polanski is that rape wasn’t taken seriously as a crime in the ‘70s, at least if the rapist knew his victim. That’s what all those feminists taking back the night were protesting!

There might be a case to be made that sex with minors has become more of a cultural taboo now than in the ‘70s, but you can’t make that case using the Polanski rape as evidence. Polanski’s case could be used as a textbook example of the excuse-making and crime-minimizing that follows when a man rapes a social inferior, just as surely as wet sidewalks follow the rain. The victim had had sex before, making her a dirty slut who had it coming? Check. The man’s too rich and powerful to be taken down by some wee woman who can’t just get over it? Check. The only thing her minor status adds to the usual litany of excuses is that the victim’s mother allowed Polanski to supervise, which apologists imply means she handed her over to be raped. Call it the Babysitting Exception, if you will.

Using the fact that Polanski pled down to a much smaller charge as evidence that things have changed dramatically doesn’t match up much to reality. Unfortunately, defense attorneys can use the “we’ll shame the victim” leverage to get severely reduced sentences from prosecutors who don’t have the stomach to put the victim through a process some describe as like being raped all over again . Polanski probably would be able to plead down to a minor charge ifthe incident occured today, for the same reason. What he pled down to doesn’t tell us much about the culture at large, but the excuses made for what he really did tell us a whole lot about how the culture then and now views forcible rape.