Polanski: it’s not just about age

God almighty, it’s been two weeks since Roman Polanski was arrested, and still we’re getting articles where even the title is a whitewash:

In Polanski Case, ’70s Culture Collides With Today

Manners, mores and law enforcement have become far less forgiving of sex crimes involving minors in the 31 years since Mr. Polanski was charged with both rape and sodomy involving drugs.

How can anyone mention “drugs” in their description of the charges, then continue yammering on about her age as if that’s the only reason what Polanski was accused of is considered rape?  I guess we just haven’t been clear enough:

It’s not just about her age. It’s not just about her age. It’s not just about her age.

If a potential partner is too drugged to give consent, it’s rape. If a potential partner is telling you no, it’s rape. In other words, if the victim had been a 35-year-old prostitute, the allegations would still be considered rape.

The way in which 70s culture is colliding with today is that if it hadn’t been for her age, Polanski’s victim probably would’ve been taken even less seriously. “Taking advantage” of women under the influence was not always explicitly against rape laws, and it certainly was “winked at” culturally. A woman’s claim “I said no” could be devalued in court by presenting evidence that she’d consented to sex with other men previously, thus obliterating her right to pick and choose who she consents to be with. That’s the thinking that has, well, not entirely changed since the 70s – it’s still out there, but not as prevalent or legally dominant as it used to be.


  1. Anemone says

    And then they said this:

    Joelle Casteix, the southwest regional director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, traced the changes in attitude toward sex with minors, among other things, to a change in the movies.

    “The kids of the ’70s were raised with films — ‘The Omen,’ ‘The Demon Seed’ — that put adult sensibilities into children,” said Ms. Casteix, whose group last week called for continued pursuit of Mr. Polanski at a demonstration in Los Angeles. “But a lot of changes in the ’80s, the Reagan era, made people look at their kids a little more and realize they were children.”

    As if all those rape crisis centres had absolutely nothing to do with the cultural shift.

    We could do with even more change, though. If he’d paid her for the rape, she’d still be treated like a criminal in many places.

  2. says

    Yeah, I really tried to figure out what “changes” she thinks in the 80s made people aware that “kids” were “children”, and all I can come up with is the invention of the PG-13 rating and the push to censor rap lyrics? I mean, what is she talking about?

    If he’d paid her for the rape, she’d still be treated like a criminal in many places.

    I believe there was a case like that just last year… ah, here it is. It was 2007. I’ll just link to it since it’s potentially triggering:

  3. sbg says

    That argument seems an awfully dismissive and a lot like, “Hey, it was the 70s – everyone raped everyone and it was no. big. deal.”


    And thank you for commenting about the age thing. Everyone’s focused on that, as if they wouldn’t be outraged at all if she hadn’t been 13 but, in fact, 18 like she apparently looked. DOESN’T MATTER. No means no at any age.

  4. Pocket Nerd says

    This is another example of people Not Getting It in discussions of rape. Sometimes I wonder if it stems from a naive inability to think beyond one’s comfortable point of view, or if it’s deliberate self-delusion akin to Orwell’s doublethink. (“Polanski can’t be an evil rapist, because that would make us reprehensible for supporting him, therefore Polanski’s not an evil rapist.”)

    Statutory rape laws aren’t fundamentally about age. They’re about power. Children are powerless: We spend most of our first two decades totally dependent on the care of others, with no money, no social status, no way to care for ourselves, and no right to participate in government. Even the most intelligent child is naive and ignorant of the adult world; children often don’t realize that a person who should be good (like a teacher or police officer) can be bad, or that people can say “I love you” but not mean it. We accept as true the words of adults because society expects it; we obey the commands of adults because society demands it.

    For these reasons and others, because children are powerless, we deem children unable to give meaningful, informed consent to sexual relations— thus statutory rape laws. (Research suggests this powerlessness is the primary attraction for many or most sexual abusers of children. They may not even be particularly attracted to children qua children, but they find a truly helpless victim irresistible.)

    Children were no more powerless in the 1970s than they are now; in fact, I suspect they were more so, given we’ve had at least a few small breakthroughs in child advocacy over the last three decades. What Polanski did would be wrong today, but it would be just as bad, or worse, in 1977. I don’t find the claims of “boo hoo, culture has changed since then and now he’s being persecuted” persuasive. And, of course, it’s rather inane to evade justice for 30 years, and then whine that you’d have received easier treatment 30 years ago. Maybe you shouldn’t have fled the country, huh?

  5. jennygadget says

    “Statutory rape laws aren’t fundamentally about age. They’re about power. ”

    This cannot be said often enough.

    As someone who often works with children and teens, it drives me crazy that this point is usually completely missed. I tell 13 year olds *daily* (ok, weekly now that I work the front desk less) that they cannot get a friggin’ library card without an adult signature. And yet just about everyone talks about this as if the issue is how sick Polanski is or isn’t and not how incredibly illegal and immoral it is for a non-guardian adult to leave such a huge decision up to the child herself – much less manipulate her, pressure her, and then ignore her “no”.

    “Everyone’s focused on that, as if they wouldn’t be outraged at all if she hadn’t been 13 but, in fact, 18 like she apparently looked.”

    Not that it wouldn’t still be rape, but I’d like to point out that she did not, in fact, look anywhere near 18. She looked exactly her age. And you know what? So do most girls that people say similar things about. Most people that use that excuse are not actually confused about the girl’s age. In fact, it’s often part of the appeal, as Pocket Nerd pointed out.

    What they are really trying to say is that she didn’t look like she was 7. So, clearly, he was attracted to her because she had breasts. And supposedly not because she was a child and therefore clearly vulnerable.

  6. sbg says

    You’re totally right, Jennygadget. I should have phrased that “as Polanski claimed she did.” In any case, her age seems less relevant to me than the fact she said no repeatedly.

  7. says

    I keep thinking of the bit in Trainspotting wherein Ewan MacGregor’s character meets a young woman at a bar, and they go back to her place and have sex, and she’s clearly experienced, and the next day he discovers it’s her parents’ home and she’s a high school kid. (And the parents seem to be cool with the whole thing – or else just deeply oblivious.) I wonder if that happens much in real life. I mean, I knew girls who looked 21 when we were 15, but by the time I was 21, something amazing happened: I could pinpoint a kid who was in school or fresh out of it in a heartbeat, because they always mention things that you haven’t thought of since you escaped school yourself, LOL.

    I have a feeling this is the sort of scenario people envision when you talk about statutory rape – scenes of Lolita “jail bait” tricking our hapless hero into an illegal liaison.

  8. Scarlett says

    Actually, I knew ONE girl who could pass for twenty at 16… but she had dropped out of school at 15 and threw herself into working at a radio station, so she was constantly around people much older and never with people her own age. (I would have been about 21 at the time and was probably the youngest person she socialised with.) But well and truly the exception. There are a couple of 16 y/o’s who work at my cafe and, as Jenn said, you can tell by the way they talk and the things they talk about that even though one physically LOOKS at least 18, that they’re 16.

    I hear horror stories all the time about guys who got done for statutory rape when the girl lied about her ages, but only one that was ever substatiated. Makes me think it’s an urban legend that guys use to defend themselves when they were either too slack to check a girl’s age or just didn’t care.

  9. Patrick J McGraw says

    I started being taken for an adult from age 15 on, but I’m male so there’s a completely different set of age indicators at work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *