Will Roman Polanski Finally Be Extradited From Poland?

We all know Roman Polanski is a rapist. So why hasn't he been held accountable?
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Publish date:
January 21, 2015
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rape, the justice system, statutory rape, roman polanski

World-famous rapist — and director — Roman Polanski is facing yet another extradition request from the United States, and this time, the Polish government seems to be taking it seriously. Investigators interviewed him for several hours before referring their findings to a court that may rule in favor of extradition, sending the case to the Justice Minister for final approval. If the case goes through, Polanski will be dragged before an LA court on an order to appear from almost 40 years ago, and perhaps, we'll finally see resolution on one of the most dragged-out rape cases of all time.

In 1977, Roman Polanski faced charges for rape by use of drugs, lascivious acts upon a child under 14, sodomy, perversion, and furnishing a controlled substance for a minor for giving 13-year-old Samantha Geimer a Quaalude and then raping her. While she repeatedly said "no," he committed multiple sex acts without her consent.

He worked out a plea deal with the court, which agreed to drop the charges if he would accept a charge of "unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor" — statutory rape — undergo a 90-day psychiatric evaluation, and then appear for sentencing. Amazingly, he was allowed to complete that sentencing at his convenience, leaving the U.S. to work on a project before returning and completing 42 days of his evaluation before being released.

He was ordered to appear before the court for final sentencing, but he fled the United States for France, where he knew he'd be protected from extradition. He did so, he claims, because he was afraid of the sentence he'd be receiving — which likely would have been an order to serve out his remaining 48 days, followed by a request to leave the country. It's hardly a terrifying punishment, and it's nowhere near what a rapist deserves.

Polanski has spent the intervening years swanning between France, Switzerland, and Poland, making movies, enjoying the luxury of multiple homes, and being swaddled in the love of the film industry. He's been nominated for, and received, a huge number of awards including Oscars and BAFTAs — and he's whined about not being able to come to the U.S. to accept his Academy Awards in person because those cruel officers of the court might drag him before a judge so he can be sentenced.

While the United States has tried to extradite him several times, these attempts have been rebuffed. Meanwhile, he's filed multiple requests for dismissal of his case — and, disgustingly, a huge swath of the film industry has supported him, including a number of big names. Tilda Swinton. Martin Scorsese. David Lynch. Terry Gilliam. Outside the industry, people like Salman Rushdie have also voiced their disapproval of attempts to bring him to justice.

The auteur has been cast as a victim in this case, a poor, persecuted artist being driven into exile by the vagaries of the U.S. justice system, which cannot seem to grasp that artists are above reproach. But that's not actually how it works.

Let's be clear. Polanski has made some really outstanding films, and I have a certain amount of bitterness that his work will always be tainted for me — people who make beautiful art can do terrible things. Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, Tess, The Pianist, The Ninth Gate, and Death and the Maiden are all really excellent films. Though can we talk about how creepy it is that he directed Oliver Twist, a film intended for families that stars a child? Like, you know, the child that he raped in 1977.

The theory here, though, is that when you rape someone and accept a plea deal, if you're allowed out on bail, you return to court for sentencing. That's how this is supposed to work, whether you're Joe Jones or Roman Polanski. Yet, this isn't how the system operates in practice, because famous people get a pass for doing heinous things, and you have things like people slut-shaming victims by declaring that they weren't virgins — like this is somehow relevant to whether they can be raped? — or that they were fame-hungry vixens eager for attention, or that they weren't rape-raped, which is I guess a special category of rape that is curiously not covered under the California penal code.

Roman Polanski has already confidently asserted that he will not be extradited because he "trusts the Polish justice system" enough to assume that they won't do the right thing and return someone who skipped bail to the courtroom where he needs to be held accountable. And maybe he's right. Because Poland holds Polanski up as a cultural icon, regarding him as a figure of sort of national pride, and because he's famous. And it makes people very uncomfortable to see famous people not just charged with and convicted of heinous crimes, but actually sentenced to any real time for them. Famous people: They're just like us!

Polanski's victim says she's forgiven him — though who wouldn't want the case to just be closed and over with, given the public attention — which is her prerogative. His supporters want us to ignore the fact that he raped someone altogether, as though by shoving this under the carpet we can remove the fleck of tarnish on his Oscars; the industry has repeatedly thumbed its nose at justice by piling on Lifetime Achievement awards and other accolades as though Polanski shouldn't be held accountable, which sends a pretty clear message to young women in Hollywood that if they're raped, no one will really care.

But the thing is that neither of these things really matters at all. It doesn't matter if Polanski wants his case dismissed. It doesn't matter if his victim has forgiven him. It doesn't matter if the film industry wants Polanski to be exonerated after the fact. What matters is what the court says — and we can't know what the court says until Polanski actually shows up in front of a judge.

That judge might hand down the sentence that he would have received in the first place: An order to finish out his jail time, followed by an order to leave the country. But the funny thing about contempt of court is that the judicial system has a long memory, and when you're decades late to your court appearance, a judge might be a little testy about it. I, for one, wouldn't blame the judge in this case for giving Polanski more than a slap on the wrist — but that will probably never happen, since Polanski is famous, and famous people don't get called to account for their actions.