Monday, October 19, 2009

Robert Goolrick's article on Polanski Revisited

I recently posted a brief article on a coincidence of news stories relating to a variety of high-profile sexual abuses, and the frustration I’ve been feeling related to people’s reactions to these stories. I pointed to a blog article posted by author Robert Goolrick,  who really did a great job of summing his frustrations, which closely match my own.

Robert sent us the following comment recently:

Thanks so much for directing people to my piece about Polanski. Child molesters are filled with excuses. His, the fact that he is to be forgiven because he is an artist, is perhaps the most horrible and unforgivable one ever.

My father was drunk. I find that easier to accept.

I tried to write about my own experience and its aftermath in my memoir, THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT. People think of child rape as an occurrence, not as a never-ending trauma that leaves the victim gasping for breath for decades.

There is also an excellent two-part film, called "The Boys of St. Vincent," directed by John Smith, made for Canadian television, but never shown, due to intervention by the Catholic Church. It is the single most powerful exploration of the subject of child abuse I have ever seen. It was of enormous help to me in understanding what had happened, and why things turned out the way they did.
In light of Goolrick’s email to me,  I returned to his original posting and read through most of the comments that people have made about his article. I’ll take this opportunity to re-visit some of my thoughts, which I did NOT express in my original pointer to his article.

First, I’d urge readers to go back to Robert’s posting now that some time has passed and read the comments that others have posted. Read them very carefully, and give them some thought.  Notice that in many cases, even the comments which appear to support the victim in the Polanski rape are perhaps unwitting excuses; they point to the victim’s parents with additional blame, they point to the extreme maturity, or conversely immaturity of the victim.  Some grapple with the (extreme) hardships Polanski has faced in his own life.  All too often it seems that even the victim’s supporters seem to find ways to soften the uncomfortable reality.

While many of the excuses discussed may indeed be factors that came into play during the commission of the crimes, they do not relieve Polanski of any responsibility. They are more subtle than the excuse that he’s an artist, and therefore he’s earned some kind of bye; but ultimately they are still just methods that people are using to soften impact of the horror of the crimes committed by a very sick man, of his own volition. Polanski was not forced to commit the crimes. The victim, even if she was overly precocious, did not cause Polanski to override his boundaries to commit a horrid crime against a child: Polanski did that all on his own.  Polanski’s pain, in looking back at the horrors which occurred in his own life, does not give him justification to impose horrors on a young child.

I think the thought that the victim was “just young and dumb” and therefore is “blameless” is an interesting comment made in response to Goolrick’s article.  In an insidious way, this is actually a statement of blame, because the converse is this: If the victim hadn’t been so stupid, she would have prevented the rape, and therefore Polanski’s troubles in having to deal with all of this is her fault! To some extent I believe that the person who wrote that comment does actually support the victim: I think that facing the raw, evil nature of an adult man doing this to a child, and having to face the thought that the child will live with this well beyond the commission of the crime is simply impossible for most people to do without trying to soften the blow: they need to make the crime something less horrible, less raw, less connected to themselves; so that it becomes something that they will NEVER have to deal with in their own lives. Spread the blame, and the crime becomes something that you are not likely to experience.  Make the victim dumber or more sexually precocious than your kids are, and the crime will never happen to your kids. Blame the parents for being more permissive than you are, and it will never happen to your kids.

It’s well past time for everyone to wake up.

This stuff happens all the time. And people are getting away with it because we are all running around saying that it’s not so bad, that the blame is shared, and that the perpetrators are good people otherwise, and that that should count for something.    As Robert says above:  “People think of child rape as an occurrence, not as a never-ending trauma that leaves the victim gasping for breath for decades..”  It is the continued excuse-making that helps to perpetuate the victim’s pain.

The Polanski case is especially thorny for me, because the victim is so vocally stating some things that we all feel in coping with this kind of abuse; but it is probably not a correct feeling: it is the result of the trauma, causing a misplaced feeling of guilt that we are responsible for our hurt and the hurt that our families have experienced. I think that the most insidious problem with this kind of case can be summed up with just one of the comments on Robert Goolrick’s article:

Virtute said:

I comprehend the circumstances of child rape, I was a victim of repeated rape at the age of 8. For much of a year, I spent every day and night waiting to see if it would be that day or the next when I would be raped again. I am now 40 and rarely a moment has passed in my life when the events of my 8th-9th years do not impact me.

However, I support the victim, [victim’s name redacted] when she begs not to have to face this whole issue again, when she asks the D.A. of Los Angeles not to have to deal with the case. She says that each time Polanski is in the news all attention turns to her, she must confront her rape again and it hurts her, her husband and her children.

I have never met a victim of child abuse that does not wish they could put it all aside, place it on a shelf somewhere and be at peace. Statements by [victim’s name redacted] indicate that the events of over 30 years ago are only a problem for her when she must confront them again, that is reason enough to let the issue alone.

Polanski can never be excused, never. He should however be set free so that his victim doesn't have to go through with this again. Set the charges aside, cease to prosecute them, not for Polanski, for [victim’s name redacted].
Note that the commenter says “rarely a moment has passed in my life when the events of my 8th-9th years do not impact me.”   Yet the commenter later goes on to say that the Polanski rape victim indicates “that the events of over 30 years ago are only a problem for her when she must confront them again, that is reason enough to let the issue alone.”  Here’s the insidious problem with this kind of crime:   The commenter has acknowledged (as I do) that the problems associated with this kind of crime last a lifetime:   “rarely a moment has passed... when the events... do not impact me.” While neither of us can speak for the victim of Polanski’s rape,  I think it’s a safe guess that the issue comes up very much more often than just when the story is in the press.  And yet, the natural reaction to “protect the victim” is to say: let’s not deal with the issue, let’s let the perpetrator go, so that the victim doesn’t have to suffer any more. This is a false hope. The victim will suffer more as this drags through court again, whether she is there to testify or not. The victim will also suffer more if the case does not drag through the court again.  But to be sure: the fact that her name and photo are plastered all over, and people discuss her flaws and her parent’s flaws, while calling Polanski a great artist can’t possibly be helping her either:

According to an article in the Huffington Post:

Now a wife and mother of three children, [victim’s name redacted] said that the insistence by prosecutors and the court that Polanski must appear in person to seek dismissal "is a joke, a cruel joke being played on me."

[Victim’s name redacted] said she believes prosecutors are reciting sexually explicit details of the case to distract from their office's own wrongdoing 31 years ago.

[She] was disappointed that the district attorney "has, yet one more time, given great publicity to the lurid details of those events for all to read again."

And according to the NY Daily News:

[Victim’s name redacted] said Polanski had paid, and she wanted to move on and stop reliving the details of the assault every time he made headlines.

"True as they may be, the continued publication of those details causes harm to me, my beloved husband, my three children and my mother," she said.

In the end, she was relieved when Polanski fled because reporters stopped calling.
"He did something really gross to me, but it was the media that ruined my life," she told People in 1997.
In fact, what really is going on here is not so much that the victim has necessarily “moved on.”  “Setting the charges aside, ceasing to prosecute them” as the commenter suggests could potentially do more damage than good to the victim.  It is very unfortunate that the victim’s name has been used in the press all these years. Clearly she is crying for relief from the press coverage.  She had this horrible thing done to her, and then has had further and continuous damage done to her by people who continue to drag her name through the mud, while at the same time praising the great “artist” who raped her, confirming the twisted feelings she's having that cause her so much guilt and shame. Ultimately , I  think that perhaps the best outcome would be for the victim to see the perpetrator locked up for his crimes, without her name mentioned, and without her picture splashed all over the news.  Unfortunately, we can’t go back in time and undo that damage, but she may yet get some rest from it all if justice is finally served.  I suspect that the victim’s hope of never having to deal with any of this anymore, and seeing Polanski “be set free so that his victim doesn't have to go through with this again” are two very different things.

I think that seeing the perpetrator go free would only perpetuate the victim’s horrid fear that perhaps all of the perpetrator’s supporters are correct: that he is more worthy, that he is a better human than she, that she is just stupid, that her parents are worthless, and that she doesn’t deserve justice because she was more precocious than she should have been. That is what childhood victims of these kinds of crime fear every day; that is why they re-live the ordeal all the time; that is why they sometimes make excuses for the perpetrator, and that is why they often lie, and say:"it’s no big deal."

And maybe that thought makes you defensive, disbelieving, perhaps even angry. Face the discomfort and be vigilant against people who will use your goodwill against children; Be vigilant against the perpetrator's peers who, by their propensity to look the other way allow the perpetrator to have continued access to their target victims. Stop blindly trusting people who haven’t demonstrated that they are trustworthy, and stop providing excuses to the guilty: you’re only adding to the guilt and pain that the victims are feeling.

When I talk about this, I get that blank look: people don’t understand what I’m talking about. It has to be one of the least known and least accepted, and yet very well documented and clinically understood set of behaviors associated with victims of childhood sexual abuse.  I guess I can’t say it any more plainly. I’m at a loss… but I’m also positive that I’m not the one who’s wrong…


  1. I found an interview with Roman Polanski's victim that she did with Larry King on 2003. In the interview, notice how she puts up a careful wall between her adult and child selves. I would bet that every day it's an effort to keep that wall up. I am betting that her saying she doesn't want Polanski to do any more time is an effort to keep that 13 year old self at bay.

    She sounds pretty cold when she talks about him. Note she says she doen't have sympathy for him:

  2. I don't care whether she was a "precocious" teenager

    He was 43. She was 13. He broke the law by raping her.

    Case closed.

  3. I just finished reading Robert Goolrick's memoir, "The End of the World As We Know It" (Algonquin Books, 2007)

    His book cuts right to the bone. I know that victims of sex abuse will be able to relate to his haunting story. And Goolrick is also a darn good writer, besides

  4. He was 43. She was 13. He broke the law by raping her.

    Case closed.

    I don't understand why SO MANY people refuse to react this way.

    No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to come up with a valid justification. And yet so many people do.

    Little Laura Ingalls Wilder says:
    "It's a gray area when momma's in the building."

    Meaning: perhaps it's not a crime to drug a 13 year old, and forceably sodomize her, as long as her mom is somewhere in the general vicinity!

    Thanks, Melissa Gilbert, for your brilliant insight! (Maybe next time you have something -- anything -- to say, you'll consider just clamping your moronic little pie-hole shut.

    I have some safety pins you can have.

  5. The biggest misconception regarding victimization is that a crime victim brings it upon themselves. There are many types of crimes that could happen to anyone, but it’s important to recognize that it isn’t your fault.

    There should not be any 50% your fault, what you said, you musta done something!

    It just isn’t true. Victimization happens before you realize you were victimized. Children aren’t set up to challenge an adult in most cases. The adult, in the case of Polanski, if he was such a brilliant artistic genius he should have known sex with a minor was wrong. 100% his fault!

    Victims need to be brave and come forward. Elizabeth Smart got on the stand and through all her grace I can see deep down this crime committed upon her will be with her for the rest of her life.

    I really liked what John Walsh said the other day - Obama and the government will bail out the automakers with our money but they haven’t signed a bill into law that will increase patrol of convicted sex offenders and stop paroling these monsters into society to revictimize children.

    In the case of Ayres, just getting him behind bars would be the first step. He has been free on bail far to long!