Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Is child rape OK if done artistically?

Today's N.Y. Times editorial pretty much sums up my feelings on the case:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/30/opinion/30wed4.html?th&emc=th

though perhaps not forcefully enough. In 1977 Polanski drugged and raped a young girl: he was 44, she was 13. Of this there is no doubt; in fact, he pleaded guilty to the essentials of the crime. There were extraneous issues: he was a holocaust surviver and beginning his career as a celebrity director; the girl was likely being peddled by her mother as a young starlet; he claims the sex was consensual and the girl looked older. These are beside the point.

Most civilized countries -- even European ones -- believe that 13 year olds can not give consent to sex with an adult. Most civilized countries believe that drugging a human to have sex is rape. What many civilized countries apparently still do not believe is that famous and wealthy people should pay for their crimes.

Some years ago I served for 3 months on a grand jury. Unlike regular juries, grand juries review hundreds of arrests -- we heard over 200 cases -- and only determine probable cause. Of the many sex cases we heard, there were three main categories. The first were cases of violent or aggravated rape, whose criminality is unambiguous. The second group consisted of relatively young people engaged in consensual sex, but with one of the partners under "the age of consent" (18 here in Massachusetts). This constitutes statutory rape -- rape under the law's "statutes". Many if not most of these cases were travesties, typically a young man making love with his somewhat underaged girlfriend. Totally consensual according to both parties, but usually brought to the attention of the police by the girl's parent(s) who were reluctant to accept either the boy or their daughter's sexuality. Because of the nature of the law we were obliged to forward these cases to trial. Our jury was made up of a broad cross-section of citizens, but nearly all of us hoped that the legal system would be lenient on most of this class of defendents.

The third type of case involved an older person -- invariably male in our experience -- who preyed on young children. Often this child was the son or daughter of the older person's spouse or partner, who herself was often an enabler or almost willfully ignorant of what was going on. We really hated these cases because of the self-centered often icy viciousness of the perpetrator. To a person we felt that the statutory rape laws were most justified in deterring and punishing such behavior. The Polanski case reminds me exactly of my experiences in these grand jury cases.

The interesting phenomenon in this story is that when it broke all the news media were full of the indignations of the jet-setting and connected. Famous folk, from Hollywood's elite to the president of France, were tut-tutting the U.S. for somehow being anti-art, anti-culture and once again so, so ... barbarian... in trying to bring to justice a gifted celebrity who had raped a young child, served 42 days in prison, and then skipped out illegally before sentencing. But then we began to hear from the large numbers of people who thought that maybe drugging and raping a child should entail some penalties other than having to pay expenses for jet travel and maintaining two international mansions outside the U.S. See, for example, some of the letters and comments in your local newspaper. The Huffington Post, which printed a lot of star blather about Polanski, received outraged letters from its readers, who in a lopsided ratio supported equal application of the laws to everyone. Check out British opinion in:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/roman-polanski/6245219/Roman-Polanski-backlash-as-Whoopi-Goldberg-says-director-didnt-commit-rape-rape.html .

I think "liberals" better be mighty careful in dumping on the U.S. for protecting children from sexual predators. Many American policies are deplorable, but this ain't one of them.

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