British actress Charlotte Lewis has alleged that at the age of sixteen, twenty-eight years ago, she too was sexually assaulted by Roman Polanski. Commenters on sites I won’t link to are quick to doubt her: why’d she wait to report it, huh? She needs publicity for her failed career! For answers to this question, I refer you to Angry Black Woman’s recent post on why women don’t report rapes.
But you know, it’s very simple: women don’t report rapes because our society doesn’t really consider rape wrong in the same way we consider most felonies wrong. Reporting sexual assault is less like reporting a murder than it’s like an employee blowing the whistle on a major corporation that’s force-feeding nuclear waste to endangered animals: you’re the one making the allegation, so you’d better have proof on a silver platter, or else you will be crucified and lose your job.
Speaking of jobs, some articles cite the fact that Lewis went on to make a movie with Polanski after the alleged assault as reason to disbelieve her allegations. That’s not how it works in Hollywood, especially in the early 80s. You want to work in film? You don’t “allege” accounting fraud against important movers and shakers like Polanski or, I dunno, certain governors of California, let alone felonies. Even outside Hollywood, sexual assaults frequently get buried when the man they’re made against is more important to his town or profession than is his victim. But as evidenced by Polanski’s Hollywood defenders (and, oh, Woody Allen, I don’t think you’re the right person to defend someone on his treatment of a young girl entrusted to his care), Hollywood is an especially festering environment for people who think rape is something women ought to accept as normal and try to enjoy.
Ah, well. If you can’t understand why her not reporting it until now isn’t a solid reason to doubt her word, please surf along to another site immediately because you’re not my target audience. I also don’t think my inner Spock can take hearing the “hiring Gloria Allred automatically means you made it up” rationalization anymore without wanting to do that Vulcan nerve-pinch thing on you. I’m not suggesting you must believe this women you don’t personally know. I’m saying nothing has come to light to cast doubt on her word, so the assumption she’s lying says more about the person assuming it than it says about her.
Now let’s talk about how this changes the picture for the Polanski now. Legally, it might not make any difference. This case can’t be tried because it’s beyond the statute of limitations, and Lewis’ allegations might be ruled inadmissible in the Geimer case. But as I said back in October:
But one point Geimer has made in recent years keeps coming back to me: that no one else has ever alleged sexual misconduct by Polanski, and therefore it would seem he’s not a danger to society. She’s got a point. I find it very hard to imagine Polanski only pulled a stunt like this once, because I believe rapists who report that committing sexual assaults is a sort of high, and once you’ve done it nothing else in life compares, and so you have to do it again. But that’s just my belief. If no one else comes forward, it’s hard for Geimer to argue that justice for her would be justice for all.
Check out some conclusions from the best currently available studies about sexual assault:
- Rapists start young and keep going until something forces them to stop. And it’s not conscience.
- Rapists develop elaborate strategies for getting victims alone, for establishing and maintaining control over victims, etc.
Therefore, if Geimer’s allegations are true, and Polanski’s provided us every reason to believe them, she almost assuredly wasn’t the only one he hurt. The level of planning that went into Geimer’s assault also suggests a well-rehearsed routine.