Workers Vanguard No. 1135
1 June 2018
On Our Defense of Roman Polanski
Sex, Lies and Witchhunts
21 February 2018
For forty years, WV has declared Roman Polanski completely innocent. It’s considered an expression of willingness to buck opinion, defend egalitarianism, and champion sexual freedom—fine things indeed. However, I now think this position is wrong. The problem isn’t the girl’s age: the problem is she did not consent to sex with Polanski.
Because of the plea bargain, Polanski was convicted only of sex with a minor. However, the plea bargain merely reflects the girl wanted her judicial and media nightmare to end. Her attorney requested it; Polanski accepted. The judge then suggested Polanski might spend decades incarcerated—vitiating the sentencing agreement—prompting Polanski’s flight. This is why the case continues.
Read the grand jury transcripts. WV has gone to extraordinary lengths to impugn the girl’s testimony, claiming she was “clearly coached” or her memory was unreliable. Yet she recounted:
This is “mutually consensual sex”?
WV acknowledged only what little testimony it could distort. Besides describing her “blatantly obvious sexual maturity” and experience, WV 192 claims she’d “been ‘experimenting’ with Quaaludes since the age of 10 or 11.” Actually, she testified that one time she took “part of” a Quaalude, and she had sex one time with her former boyfriend. Insinuating she’d do anything to advance her career, WV laments Polanski “had the misfortune to run into” her.
Actually, Polanski offered to photograph her for Vogue; she said yes. When he asked her during the shoot to take off her shirt, she nervously complied. When he demanded more, she testified, she resisted but gave in because “there was no one else there and I had no place to go.” This may not be physically violent rape, but it is not “effective consent.” It demands understanding sexual oppression can take many forms—and showing, for once, a shred of sympathy for the girl.
WV 192 quotes Polanski:
“In America, California, I lose my wife, my baby, my friends, perhaps my sanity and almost my freedom. ‘No,’ I say, ‘No!’ The Nazis couldn’t take it away from me, nor could the grief of my losses. And this little whore and the California laws won’t either. I have given much and they have taken too much from me.”
This powerfully evokes Polanski’s horrific sufferings. There was, however, no excuse for the misogyny—and certainly none for WV to respond: “Good for him.”
WV 948 quotes Gore Vidal. “Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?… The idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel all in white, being raped by this awful Jew…” Much as I respect Vidal, this is malevolent and degrading.
“Little whore.” “Young hooker.” All this venom, toward a girl. And somehow, these epithets are supposed to express a vision for women’s liberation.
Read Samantha Geimer’s memoir. You will find a strong, fair-minded, intelligent woman, whose greatest mistake was being thirteen and beautiful, alone with a successful, talented, selfish, horny man.
WV replies: The sexual encounter between Roman Polanski and Samantha Geimer (then Gailey) in 1977 is one of the most controversial in modern history. For four decades, the U.S. government and its media hounds have carried out an unrelenting vendetta against Polanski, smearing him as a predator and child rapist—lies to publicly crucify a man who committed no crime. Kathleen’s letter carefully cherry-picks five points from the 1977 grand jury transcripts and presents them as fact. But these points are not the least bit credible.
The entire purpose of the grand jury, contrary to any illusion of impartiality, was for the prosecution to indict Polanski on six separate felony charges, including rape. Geimer’s testimony was never tested by cross-examination, which is not permitted in grand jury proceedings, or brought to trial. It was vague and contradictory. The teenage Geimer claimed to have said “no” and told Polanski to “keep away,” yet also stated, “I can barely remember anything that happened.” In a recent interview with Quillette (31 January), she confessed, “I never told Polanski to ‘keep away’.”
Like all witnesses, Geimer was “clearly coached” by a prosecution intent on throwing Polanski behind bars. With no findings of damage or use of force, the prosecution resorted to having Geimer repeatedly claim in her testimony that she was “afraid” of Polanski, a maneuver to evoke danger and coercion, which are belied by the absence of physical evidence. However, later she would basically admit that this was a lie. In her 2013 memoir, The Girl, Geimer wrote that she “never felt in physical danger” during her sexual encounter with Polanski. Recalling her thoughts after sex, she wrote: “I had done some dumb things, but I was going to be okay. After all, he was this famous man—and famously experienced lover—who hadn’t wanted to hurt me; he even wanted me to feel pleasure.”
Feminist decree stipulates that only the alleged victim is to be believed, but Polanski has just as much right to be listened to as his accuser. Shocked and incredulous at the time of his arrest, Polanski recounts in his 1984 autobiography Roman that he “couldn’t equate what had happened the day before with rape in any form” and refers to the encounter throughout as “making love.” Before sex, Polanski encouraged Geimer to check in with her mother on the phone (which she did), and expressed concern when Geimer, feeling high and overheated in the Jacuzzi, said she had asthma and had left her medication at home. (Polanski was baffled when he found out later that Geimer had lied about the asthma.) He also described the act: “Then, very gently, I began to kiss and caress her. After this had gone on for some time, I led her over to the couch. There was no doubt about [her] experience and lack of inhibition. She spread herself and I entered her. She wasn’t unresponsive.” Nowhere in his account does Polanski describe her crying in the car. Rather, she “talked a lot during the drive home,” including about her guitar lessons and Shakespeare.
Polanski has consistently maintained that what happened between him and Geimer was consensual. Indeed, she herself described it as “just sex” in a 2010 interview with Larry King. Lacking any evidence to convict him of rape or the other charges he faced (such as “sodomy” and “perversion”), the prosecution pushed a plea bargain based on the only card it had left to play: unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. As the girl was 13 and therefore underage according to California law, Polanski accepted, with the understanding that he would get only probation after his “psychiatric evaluation.” But with the media baying for Polanski’s blood, the power-hungry judge, Laurence Rittenband, reneged on the deal and threatened him with up to 50 years behind bars. Polanski fled to Paris. Even the prosecutor, Roger Gunson, later acknowledged, “I’m not surprised that he left under those circumstances.”
It is not accidental that Kathleen, a former member of the Editorial Board of this paper, is presenting her newly embraced “facts” at a time when the witchhunt against the 84-year-old director has been revived by the liberal #MeToo movement. The premise of #MeToo, which tars Hollywood men and others as criminals whether they were accused of a regretfully bad date or actual sexual assault, is that women, especially young women, cannot possibly consent to sex with someone in a higher age, prestige or pay bracket. Despite Kathleen saying that “the problem” has nothing to do with the girl’s age, we very much doubt she would be raising a fuss if Polanski had been, as she puts it, a “talented, selfish, horny” teenager.
From the get-go, Polanski was the whipping boy for a puritanical crusade against intergenerational sex. And he was acutely aware of why he was being hounded: “The young girl admitted in front of a tribunal that she’d already had intercourse with other people before meeting me, though the tribunal wasn’t concerned about these other men. When Mr. Smith or Mr. Brown sleeps with fourteen year-old adolescents who look eighteen, it doesn’t interest anyone. But when a famous film director does, the law and the press sound the alarm.”
Our defense of Polanski always infuriates those who think young people are incapable of consenting to sexual acts, or that sex between people of different ages is inevitably coercive. We oppose all statutory rape laws because they wrongly criminalize consensual sex. In the U.S., “age of consent” laws not only differ state to state, but also are in marked contrast to a country like France, where Polanski was born and retains citizenship. In France, there is no minimum legal age for sexual activity and no presumption of “rape” if a minor is involved, though there have been recent efforts to impose an “age of consent” law. That there is broader acceptance of the potential for a sexual relationship between adults and minors is in large part due to an atmosphere of sexual freedom and changing social attitudes following the mass student and worker struggles of May 1968.
Young people do have sexual desires, and they act on them—sometimes with much older people. The shame or self-recrimination they may suffer as a result comes directly from the hypocritical and obscene morals of this society, which are enforced by religion, parents and cops. Kathleen misleadingly paints a picture of an unknowing child desperately trying to escape the clutches of an aggressive seducer. But it is not insignificant that Geimer, an aspiring model and actress, viewed Polanski as “my ticket to stardom” and showed off her experience and maturity as a young adult—she told him she was sexually experienced, had drunk alcohol, tried Quaaludes, seen Playboy. Even if one accepts Geimer’s account of the encounter as conveyed in her book, all it reveals is a young woman engaged in an inner dialogue dealing with the complexity of sex, trying to balance the feelings of physical pleasure and societal shame: “He asks if it feels good, which it does—and that, in itself, is awful. I don’t want this, my mind recoils, but my body is betraying me.”
Our view of sexual consent is the effective and voluntary agreement between individuals during an encounter. Given the class and social divisions in capitalist society, we know consent can also be murky, particularly when fame or money plays a role. Signals can get mixed and misread, especially when drugs and alcohol are involved. There is no universal consensus on consent: an enormous range of both verbal and nonverbal behavior exists that allows people to communicate desire or absence of desire. Under such circumstances, motive and intent are crucial; by all accounts, Polanski’s motive was mutual pleasure. We reject the idea that there must be “affirmative consent,” a guideline that criminalizes anything less than repeated, enthusiastic agreement and opens the door for any sexual encounter to be regarded as assault. We also reject the notion that rape can be ambiguous, “gray” or a matter of miscommunication. Such a view grossly minimizes this uniquely violent crime, which is based on coercion and degradation.
There is no denying that Polanski was singled out for a crime that didn’t occur. The 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, directed by Marina Zenovich, demonstrates the vindictive scapegoating by the media and the state, which was determined to punish Polanski. In one interview, journalist Richard Brenneman, who covered the case, discloses the rumor in 1977 that the prosecuting attorney, Gunson, was chosen because he was both a Mormon and the only one in the D.A.’s office who hadn’t had sexual relations with an underage girl. According to Gunson, none of the people in L.A. County who had been convicted of sex with a minor in the year preceding Polanski’s case spent any time behind bars. This seems improbable in today’s reactionary climate, where to be labeled a pedophile is to be branded a sex offender for life.
The documentary notes that the targeting of Polanski started years before his encounter with Geimer, setting the stage for a perfect Hollywood case with a stereotypical “villain.” Polanski, whose mother was murdered in the Holocaust, was a controversial director, a short Jewish man, a foreigner with a heavy accent, and the victim of one of the grisliest crimes California had yet seen: the butchering of his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, and others in his home by the crazed Charles Manson gang in 1969. In the months after the murder, and before Manson was apprehended, the press mercilessly hounded Polanski. The media claimed that his films proved that he and Tate engaged in sinister practices, then churned out references to orgies, drug parties and black magic, grotesquely blaming Polanski’s lifestyle for the crime. Tate’s death was an emotional watershed for Polanski that would affect him for decades; it also began a mutual loathing between him and the American press, which exists to this day.
As for Kathleen’s demand for “a shred of sympathy for the girl,” how about a shred of sympathy for an innocent man who has been maligned and witchhunted for over four decades? As for Geimer, she herself makes clear that it was the media and the legal system that traumatized her, not Polanski. Her repeated requests that the prosecution drop its charges against Polanski have been denied time after time. For protesting the ongoing witchhunt against Polanski, Geimer has been smeared as a “rape apologist” who suffers from “Stockholm syndrome” and “victim’s guilt.” This is the logic of the dangerous climate enhanced by the anti-sex feminists of #MeToo: anyone defending the accused is sent to the gallows.
Kathleen’s brief serves a purpose: to slander us as misogynists and defenders of rapists, including because we printed “epithets” uttered by Polanski and the late Gore Vidal. After a yearlong judicial nightmare, 42 days of “psychiatric observation” in Chino state penitentiary, facing decades of imprisonment for having sex with a starstruck girl who appeared to be entrapping him, Polanski made the verbal comments Kathleen refers to in her letter. Solidarizing with Polanski’s justifiable anger, we wrote in “Stop the Puritan Witchhunt Against Roman Polanski!” (WV No. 192, 10 February 1978), “Good for him. We are cheered to see that this ordeal of puritanical witchhunting has not broken Roman Polanski’s spirit.”
Gore Vidal’s comments, which were made in 2009 as Polanski faced extradition to the U.S. for the 1977 case, alluded to the well-known Hollywood scene where sex is exchanged for advancement. As we wrote in WV No. 192, “Regardless of what one thinks of the scene as a whole, its all-too-obvious reality makes absurd Rittenband’s attempts to force rigid morality of the Victorian era into L.A. freeways and bedrooms.” It is the next portion of Vidal’s remarks that contains his core point: “Anti-Semitism got poor Polanski. He was also a foreigner. He did not subscribe to American values in the least. To [his persecutors] that seemed vicious and unnatural.” To the Atlantic interviewer’s question as to what are “American values,” Vidal responded, “lying and cheating.” And the capitalist rulers sure love a good moral panic, especially if supplemented by a witchhunt of someone who deviates from their moral compass.