September
28th 2009
The word “rape” has been disappeared from the English language

Posted under: American history, European history, Gender, local news, unhappy endings, women's history

UPDATED BELOW

At least in the coverage of Roman Polanski’s arrest it has!  I keep hearing about how he was arrested in Switzerland this weekend on a 32-year old charge of “having sex with” a then-13 year old girl.  (This New York Times story will stand as representative of the chicken$hit coverage.)  Funny–he was actually charged with rape in 1977 (aggravated with the use of drugs and alcohol to incapacitate the girl), but pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of statutory rape.

Here’s something even more inexcusable:  the Denver Post ran a Los Angeles Times story that featured a photo with a caption of the victim in which she is described as the girl who “accused Polanski when she was 13.”  (The Denver Post’s headline in their print and online editions this morning is “Polanski held in 1977 rape case,” however, so “rape” is OK in a headline presumably because it’s shorter than saying “sex case” or “having sex with 13-year old accuser.”) 

Thank you, Kobe Bryant, and your very capable but total dirtbag of an attorney, Pamela Mackey!  Ever since Bryant was charged with raping a 19-year old college student from the University of Northern Colorado in 2003, the news media has refused to label rape victims as rape victims, even when a District Attorney has charged a man with rape, at which point the alleged crime is acknowledged to be in fact a crime.  (The presumption of innocence of the alleged criminal still holds, but at this point victims should be acknowledged as victims, not jeered at and patronized as “accusers.”)  Check out the linked story above–Bryant’s victim is described as the woman who “accused” him, although of course he had been arrested and charged with the crime.  By the way, the charges were dropped because the victim refused to testify against Bryant, not because the D.A. came to the conclusion that the charge was unwarranted.

What a proud legacy Colorado has given the nation with respect to our understanding of crime, consent, and rape.  Now, we can’t even describe drunk and drugged 13-year old girls as rape victims–they’re just “accusers.”  I’ve talked with my women’s history students about this for the past few years, when thinking about patriarchal equilibrium and the fact that I’m old enough now to see a good span of my life historically and to note the changes, and I think the language we use to describe rape has been shaped to the advantage of rapists everywhere.  Unless and until all crime victims are going to be referred to as “accusers” in media accounts, I’ll stand by my analysis here.

UPDATE, Monday afternoon:  In catching up on my blog reading, I find that others have written some good posts on the Polanski arrest.  First, Dr. Isis got there yesterday with her post, “After Years of Stealth Evasion, Elusive Criminal Roman Polanski Arrested,” and Salon’s Kate Harding wrote today, “Reminder:  Roman Polanski raped a child,” which is a much longer and more thorough treatment of the case than I offered here.

47 Comments »

47 Responses to “The word “rape” has been disappeared from the English language”

  1. ej on 28 Sep 2009 at 8:42 am #

    Thanks for the clarification Historiann. I heard this story on NPR this morning and couldn’t quite figure out why the LA District Attorney’s office was expending so much energy trying to track down a 70-something man for “having sex” (which is all they said) with a 13-year old 30 years ago. Now I realize the missing piece of the puzzle was the word “rape”. Not that I would condone consensual sex with a 13-year old, but our legal system only seems to take those cases seriously when there’s race involved.

  2. Buzz on 28 Sep 2009 at 8:44 am #

    When I saw the story about Polanski’s arrest, I didn’t much notice the language. I was just thrilled that it looks like he might finally go to prison.

    The tendency on the part of the media to describe known facts as “allegations” is actually very widespread. Every so often, I come across an article that takes this to an absurd extreme, with multiple levels of allegation that render the statement logically incoherent—e.g. “She alleges that she saw the suspect fleeing the alleged crime scene with the allegedly stolen articles.”

    I believe there are two reasons for this kind of circumlocution. The first is a partially legitimate fear of being sued for libel. The second is a growing perception that this is simply the right way to practice journalism—that the press has a responsibility not to label somebody as a criminal until they are proven to be one in a court of law. I strongly disagree with this idea. The role of journalists is to convey facts to their audience. Sometimes those facts are controversial or upsetting, but when they are known to be true, they should not be suppressed just to maintain some legal fiction. When there is real doubt what happened, speaking of “allegations” is fine, but not when the events in question are clear.

    (I note that the press does not follow these rules as carefully as they might. Nobody speaks of the “alleged 9/11 hijackers,” even though there has been no legal finding of fact regarding their criminal behavior. Of course, they are dead and hence cannot be defamed, but I don’t think that’s really why they don’t bother with the “alleged” in their cases. More interesting might be cases where obviously criminal acts are described in plain terms, but the initial context suggests that no criminal proceedings will ever follow from them. If it so happens that a trial does become a possibility, the events that were once described as known and documented suddenly becomes merely “alleged.”)

    There are a couple reasons why rape is particularly prone to this kind of cowardly circumlocution in the media. The first is that there may be more genuine uncertainty in what happened in rape cases; it is a crime that often leaves no direct witnesses other than the rapist and victim. (I think the Kobe Bryant case is an example of this. Did he rape her? Probably, but I wouldn’t bet money on it.) The second reasons is related to the fact that the media’s approach is focused specifically on protecting the legal fiction of “innocent until proven guilty.” For many crimes (especially property crimes), one can speak of a suspect’s alleged involvement without calling into question whether there was a crime at all. However, in rape cases, there is usually no doubt who the perpetrator was; then logically, in order to question their guilt, the fact of whether a crime was even committed must be called into question. I find this really repugnant.

    Of course, Polanski’s case is, if anything, worse. There is no legal doubt of his guilt in this case. He’s a fugitive from justice, and that he remained at large so long with no real effort to catch him should be an embarrassment to California and international law enforcement. I suspect that the media now calls his victim an “accuser” because they have been exposed for decades to a long litany of excuses on his behalf, questioning whether it was really fair to send him to prison. “He’s a Holocaust survivor”; “His wife was murdered by the Mansons”; “He’s such a great artist”; “It was a very long time ago”; “She has forgiven him.” I have to agree with my doctoral supervisor, who was also named Roman and thought Polanski was an unrepentant slime who had put a black mark on their common given name and should be locked away for the rest of his life.

  3. Dr. Crazy on 28 Sep 2009 at 9:01 am #

    My sense is that this tendency in the media has a LOT to do with the 24-hour news cycle as well, in that even print media need to get stories out pretty much immediately, without having the time to cross t’s and dot i’s and to really do the interviewing and researching necessary to offer more hard-hitting, direct reportage. I’d mark the turning point when this really became common around the OJ Simpson slowest car chase alive in the mid-90s (right around when I decided that I could not be a journalist, interestingly enough, and changed my major).

  4. Historiann on 28 Sep 2009 at 9:03 am #

    ej–no one can “have sex” with a 13-year old and have it called consensual. Perhaps there are still states where the legal age of consent is 13, but to my understanding, everything below 14 and in some cases 16 is rape, because individuals below those ages cannot legally consent.

    Buzz, I think you make some great points. There are reasonable questions about the treatment of Polanski back in 1977–whether his rights were violated–but I find it disturbingly baffling this invocation of his staus as a holocaust survivor. (Both can be found in this post at TalkLeft.) So–Simon Wiesenthal and INTERPOL should have stopped hunting Nazis after they were all in their 70s and 80s, because they were just harmless old men at that point in their lives? Yeah, right.

    This is clearly a case in which a connected, rich, and powerful man has been permitted to escape the legal consequences and moral judgment of the community for his admitted actions. He pleaded guilty to statutory rape. What about that is hard to understand?

  5. ej on 28 Sep 2009 at 9:22 am #

    Historiann, point taken about the legal definitiion of consensual sex, but I do remember a case a year or so ago where a 17 year old high school senior (in Mississippi maybe?) spent about 6 months in jail for having sex with his girlfriend, who was 15 at the time. The legal ruling was statuory rape, which seemed rather extreme to me. The 15 year old girl in that case obviously believed she had the right to “consent” to sex with her boyfriend. So I think part of the issue is perspective and context.

  6. Historiann on 28 Sep 2009 at 9:26 am #

    ej–yes, good points. Statutory rape charges have been used to punish interracial sex, especially when the elder partner was a darker-skinned male and the officially underaged partner was a lighter-skinned female. (And these have also been used to punish and police gay relationships, too.)

    Still: I think most of us would agree that there’s a BIG difference between a teenaged boyfriend-girlfriend encounter and a quaaludes-and-champagne fueled rape of a 13-year old by a 43-year old.

  7. Roman Polanski’s arrest not outrageous but long overdue « Knitting Clio on 28 Sep 2009 at 9:26 am #

    [...] because he’s old and has had rough life are nearly as creepy as the original crime itself. Historiann has an exceptional commentary on this story as [...]

  8. ej on 28 Sep 2009 at 9:40 am #

    Absolutely! Which is why it is even more frustrating that they aren’t even using the phrase “statutory rape” in the reporting, much less rape. I believe NPR just said sex with an underage girl, further white washing the whole incident.

  9. Comrade PhysioProf on 28 Sep 2009 at 10:11 am #

    Unless and until all crime victims are going to be referred to as “accusers” in media accounts, I’ll stand by my analysis here.

    Your analysis is clearly correct.

  10. Dr.GunPowderPlot on 28 Sep 2009 at 10:12 am #

    Thanks, Historiann, for venting my outrage at this story. I’ve been fuming all weekend. A 43-year-old man cannot “have sex with” a 13-year-old girl. Period.

  11. Flavia on 28 Sep 2009 at 10:35 am #

    The account I heard on NPR (which I think was just top-of-the-hour news) did refer to the charge as “child rape.”

    I’m not disputing that the term is disappearing from media coverage of rape cases — I think it is; in fact, I remember what I heard so vividly because I’d never heard or possibly even thought of the case that way before.

  12. Bookbag on 28 Sep 2009 at 11:18 am #

    Thanks for blogging about this — I’ve been confused by all of the sympathetic coverage Polanski has benefited from. I even thought maybe I’d misunderstood what the arrest warrant was for, because surely one does not admit to raping a child and still remain a media darling. But no, apparently that’s what is happening here. The way this case is playing out is just so depressing.

  13. Notorious Ph.D. on 28 Sep 2009 at 11:52 am #

    Yes, and “accused/accuser” is especially out of line in this case in particular, because Polanski *confessed* to the crime, only fleeing the country afterwards, when it looked like he was going to get 50 years.

    He’s admitted his guilt; she was below the legal age of consent: he’s a rapist.

  14. PorJ on 28 Sep 2009 at 1:21 pm #

    Columnist Anne Applebaum of The Washington Post wrote a column arguing that Polanski “has paid for the crime in many, many ways… In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.” But Applebaum leaves out the fact that she’s married to the Foreign Minister of Poland, who has been lobbying for years to get the crime dismissed:

    http://althouse.blogspot.com/2009/09/anne-applebaum-says-roman-polanski-did.html

  15. Historiann on 28 Sep 2009 at 1:45 pm #

    Bookbag wrote: “I’ve been confused by all of the sympathetic coverage Polanski has benefited from.”

    It’s really, really striking, isn’t it? As if the majority of the media think it’s just a trifling matter that he drugged and raped a girl. Well, Hollywood has never had much use for women and girls as more than objects. I suppose Polanski’s career as a whole as well as the sympathy extended to him now is just further proof of the disposability of young female flesh.

    You’d think that a man whose own wife was brutally murdered would have more consciousness of the vulnerability of women at the hands of men who felt entitled to use and dispose of their bodies as they please. It is especially strange to me that a person who had suffered such personal tragedy in his life would be so heedless with other people’s daughters and families.

  16. Historiann on 28 Sep 2009 at 1:49 pm #

    PorJ: thanks for the link to the Applebaum article. I didn’t know about her husband or his record on Polanski.

    What a tragedy! He can’t ever go back to Hollywood to pick up his Academy Award! He had to pay for legal representation!

    Does anyone think before they write these days? (Especially at the WaPo?) I guess not.

  17. perpetua on 28 Sep 2009 at 2:46 pm #

    Thanks for the updated links. Harding’s Salon piece is elegant, to the point and eviscerating. Thank God someone in the press can muster some outrage over this mess.

    It’s really disturbing how a crime isn’t really a crime (especially against a woman) if you’re famous.

  18. John S. on 28 Sep 2009 at 3:12 pm #

    Two quick comments: I would third the recommendation of Harding’s piece for anyone who has not yet read it. It is excellent.

    ej and Historiann re: applications of statutory rape. There are a number of states that have what some call a “Romeo and Juliet” exception to statutory rape laws that apply when the partners involved are the same (approximately) the same age. Thus, a 16 year old high school boy who has consensual sex with his 15 year old girlfriend would not be guilty of statutory rape. (Emphasis: consensual sex–doesn’t apply when there is evidence of non-consensual.) In many cases the dividing line is two years age difference.

    The whole “debate” around this case sickens me. Notorious hits the nail right on the head–Polanski *confessed*. If he feels that his rights were violated the first time around, he has the right to appeal through our legal system and ask for fair treatment. But a *confessed and convicted rapist* should be treated as guilty until proven innocent in our public discourse.

  19. Sharon on 28 Sep 2009 at 4:20 pm #

    I hate the term “statutory rape.” Any rape defined by statute is a statutory rape. The term came into common use only after the women’s movement to raise the age of consent (1880s-1920s) began to have some success. It was just a way of saying that some rapes weren’t really rapes–it was only the law that made them rapes. (Ponder that for a moment.)

    In any case, Polanski’s was a pretty standard-issue rape. He used drugs and alcohol to compel his victim’s compliance. She said no. He didn’t stop. His crime doesn’t depend on her age.

    The truth is, though, had she been any older, Polanski would never have been prosecuted.

    Reading the grand jury testimony and his probation file, you have to conclude she’s not his only victim. His sense of entitlement to her body is depressing.

    The only thing more depressing is all the commentary on this story that assumes he WAS entitled to her body–because she’d had sex with her boyfriend, because her mother was foolish, because she drank the champagne he kept pouring into her glass. And these commenters are walking the same streets as our daughters.

  20. Historiann on 28 Sep 2009 at 4:33 pm #

    Sharon–excellent points. Attaching the adjective “statutory” to rape is like using the term “date” before rape–they’re words used to soften and minimize the crime of rape, which is truly the point.

    One of the things I’m seeing on some of the lefty political blogs is that some commenters and bloggers are suggesting that anyone who cheers Polanski’s arrest is necessarily a right-winger, as though there is no principled leftist position that supports treating Polanski like the child rapist he admitted he is. Oh well: we shouldn’t be surprised that actually giving a crap about girls and women is once again defined as something the left in this country opposes. (Paging Bristol Palin!)

  21. Sharon on 28 Sep 2009 at 5:09 pm #

    Oh, and your headline reminded me of a case about two years ago. A judge decided it would prejudice the jury if anyone used the words “rape,” “rape kit,” “sexual assault,” “victim,” or “assailant” in a trial for rape.

    The victim sued him, claiming he was trying to force her to say that her assailant “had sex” with her. Her position was that it wasn’t sex, it was rape. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear her case.

    As I recall, she was on the national staff of the College Republicans. Not entirely relevant, but it might help locate original reports.

  22. Historiann on 28 Sep 2009 at 5:18 pm #

    Sharon, I absolutely remember the case you mention. I think searching the Shakesville archives will work on this one…I don’t think it was even two years ago!

  23. sm on 28 Sep 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    The WaPo and most of its columnists are hopeless when it comes to morality and the rule of law, esp. when it comes to important people.

  24. anon2 on 28 Sep 2009 at 9:23 pm #

    On CNN today (or was it yesterday? can’t remember) it had two headlines – 1) France and Poland object to Polanski arrest 2) Poland legalizes chemical castration for pedophiles. The president of Poland was quoted along the lines of “anyone who rapes a child is not human” (the not human part is a direct quote). Apparently, Poland is fighting the extradition of a “not human”.

  25. perpetua on 29 Sep 2009 at 7:14 am #

    I came across this gem on cnn.com this morning (where AGAIN they referred to what Polanski did as “having sex with a 13 year old):

    “‘He’s a brilliant guy, and he made a little mistake 32 years ago. What a shame for Switzerland,’ said photographer Otto Weisser, a friend of Polanski.”

    It’s nice to know that to some, drugging and raping a child constitutes a little mistake.

  26. PorJ on 29 Sep 2009 at 8:33 am #

    Apparently earlier this year a very sympathetic documentary about Polanski’s plight was made by documentarian Marina Zenovich (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired – I kid you not.) and aired on HBO. Here’s a link to an excellent evisceration of the film on Salon.com (I saw this at TPM).

    Here’s my question: is it simply patriarchy that induces these women – Applebaum, Zenovich, and others – to defend Polanski? I hope that’s not offensive, but I tend to be skeptical when patterns of power relations are generally referenced (whether economic determinism, the construction of hegemony & imposition of false consciousness, Freudian, patriarchy, etc.). Obviously, all these variables/social forces intersect and interact. But they tend to rob these women of agency – presumably they know what they are doing and are making conscious choices to validate Polanski’s narrative over the judicial system’s.

    Is it because he’s a physically attractive outlaw, living in France (Americans are soooo provincial), who’s wife was brutally murdered in a psychotic rampage? He’s an artist, too, and understands suffering dating back to the holocaust (how could he victimize?). I dunno.

  27. Historiann on 29 Sep 2009 at 9:03 am #

    PorJ writes, “Here’s my question: is it simply patriarchy…?”

    It’s probably not simply patriarchy–but who said that patriarchy was simple? Lamentably, it’s anything but simple.

    I don’t know enough to generalize about the particular motives of Polanski’s female defenders, and I don’t know a great deal about them personally, but my guess is that they’re not teenage girls or even youngish women. Older women sometimes articulate a lot of aggression against younger women, because they may for various reasons identify more with Polanski than with the young, obscure girl he raped. Older women may resent the youth and sexuality of younger women at times, and they may also be married to or otherwise affiliated with men like Polanski. Women of all ages would frequently prefer to identify with the rapist than the victim, because if the victim truly did nothing to provoke the attack, other women can feel safe because they think they would have been smarter, wouldn’t have worn high heels, mini-skirts, wouldn’t have flirted, wouldn’t have drunk alcohol, etc….

    And: does anyone on earth really thinks Polanski is “physically attractive?” Yeesh! I don’t know what your sex or orientation is, PorJ, but this straight woman thinks he looked like a dirty old man even when he was a much younger man! No, thankee.

  28. PorJ on 29 Sep 2009 at 9:31 am #

    It’s probably not simply patriarchy–but who said that patriarchy was simple?

    I didn’t mean to imply that patriarchy was simple. I meant that attributing the actions of Polanski’s female defenders to patriarchy alone was a bit too simple and robs them of agency (just as attributing their behavior to class, alone, would do the same thing, or hegemony). For the record, I believe that patriarchy is incredibly complex and works itself out in ways both latent and manifest, conscious and unconscious, known and unknown. But I also believe that humans have agency and history is not necessarily solely a process of finding the right deterministic equation concerning relations of social power.

  29. Emma on 29 Sep 2009 at 9:48 am #

    Patriarchy robs women of agency, not any critiques of patriarchy or women’s actions while living in patriarchy.

  30. links for 2009-09-29 « Embololalia on 29 Sep 2009 at 12:04 pm #

    [...] The word “rape” has been disappeared from the English language : Historiann : History and sexual… What a proud legacy Colorado has given the nation with respect to our understanding of crime, consent, and rape. Now, we can’t even describe drunk and drugged 13-year old girls as rape victims–they’re just “accusers.” I’ve talked with my women’s history students about this for the past few years, when thinking about patriarchal equilibrium and the fact that I’m old enough now to see a good span of my life historically and to note the changes, and I think the language we use to describe rape has been shaped to the advantage of rapists everywhere. Unless and until all crime victims are going to be referred to as “accusers” in media accounts, I’ll stand by my analysis here. (tags: language sexualviolence childabuse rapeapology romanpolanski) [...]

  31. Indyanna on 29 Sep 2009 at 2:09 pm #

    I think of the Ira Einhorn debacle, which we watched close up for years in Philadelphia. He was a long-haired Philadelphia New Age guru from the 1960s who claimed to have invented Earth Day. He bamboozled a number of big corporations into letting him have expense accounts on their budgets in exchange for “brokering” peace with various local communities on controversial projects. Then he murdered and basically mummified his girlfriend of the time, Holly Maddux, was caught and tried, and lammed it out to Sweden and then France. He stayed ahead of the law for years with the solicitous help of a trans-Atlantic network of rads and libs and European state-based operators, until he fell between the cracks of something in France and was locked up.

    But then it took years to get him back to Pennsylvania, where he’s entombed in a state prison near here. Capital punishment issues had something to do with it, and France required–and Pennsylvania agreed–to a second trial with no chance of the latter. But there was more than a little Butch and Sundance glam and radical chic identification wrapped up in the drama. With allies like Sarkozy and Berlusconi, it may take some time, but I’m somewhat cautiously confident that Polanski will be back to do the time. The way California is emptying its prisons, who knows how much time that will be, but it will at least be something.

  32. Sulpicius on 29 Sep 2009 at 3:58 pm #

    All true (I keep thinking that some of this stuff is too obvious to be worth saying, and yet there are all these prominent people saying the opposite. Yuck.)

    One thing I want to add is the specific stupidity and class-bias of talking about Polanski’s “exile” as a way he has been “punished.” Lots of criminals flee the police for some period of time, and most of them, not having Polanski’s resources, spend that time in much more unpleasant circumstances. But nobody ever says, “think how hard it was for that guy to lie low for all that time, hiding from the cops, unable to go out and buy groceries, having to submit to the threats of anyone wishing to bully him! Let’s take a few years off his sentence!” Quite the opposite, in fact.

  33. Sulpicius on 29 Sep 2009 at 4:02 pm #

    Indyanna:
    The situation with Einhorn was also a little different: he fled (IIRC) before his trial, and then was tried in absentia and found guilty; that’s not obviously legal or just (I believe the victim’s family used some political clout to make it happen), and there was some legitimate basis for other countries to resist sending him back to be punished without getting a chance to face trial.

  34. PorJ on 29 Sep 2009 at 5:24 pm #

    Patriarchy robs women of agency.

    Agreed. To what extent? Should this absolve the elite women like Applebaum who defend Polanski and insult the judicial system (and the victim – although the victim apparently forgives Polanski and wrote to the judge asking that the case be dropped)?

    I keep thinking that some of this stuff is too obvious to be worth saying, and yet there are all these prominent people saying the opposite.

    This is precisely what I don’t understand, although I appreciate that this contributes: there was more than a little Butch and Sundance glam and radical chic identification wrapped up in the drama. (as well as what Historiann surmised).

  35. Indyanna on 29 Sep 2009 at 7:23 pm #

    It’s true, I got the sequence wrong. Einhorn was charged, fled before trial, and was tried in absentia many years later. Pennsylvania’s stance was that since there had been no capital punishment law when the crime occurred, there was no chance of his being sentenced to death. France’s objection was raised to the in-absentia element. Interestingly, Arlen Specter, between jobs as the Philly D.A. and his election as senator in 1980, was Einhorn’s attorney in the late 1970s. I doubt whether he could have continued to represent him as a senator.

    I just read some shocking European state-level commentary on the Polanski matter, which I don’t have with me, including a French (or Polish) state officer saying the request for extradition show’s America’s hateful face (not an exact quote) as opposed to its other face. Do they really believe this? He’s suffered enough, running around collecting awards? Maybe Obama should divert his Olympics mission to Copenhagen next week to land in Zurich and say “hand him over.”

  36. Historiann on 29 Sep 2009 at 8:41 pm #

    Maybe Obama should divert his Olympics mission to Copenhagen next week to land in Zurich and say “hand him over.”

    Ha! I love it. Obama could use a little Dirty Harry attitude. (Well, a LOT of Dirty Harry attitude…) But, that’s not going to happen, because I’m sure he would prefer for the child rapists and the raped children to both admit that they’re a little wrong, they’re both a little bit country and a little bit rock’n’roll, and to work together on a productive bi-victim, bipartisan solution.

  37. Emma on 30 Sep 2009 at 9:33 am #

    I’m sure he would prefer for the child rapists and the raped children to both admit that they’re a little wrong, they’re both a little bit country and a little bit rock’n’roll, and to work together on a productive bi-victim, bipartisan solution.

    Ow! But oh so funny ‘cuz it’s oh so true.

  38. PorJ on 30 Sep 2009 at 3:27 pm #

    Applebaum responds to her critics:

    Well, well. It turns out that Applebaum’s husband is a Polish politician who is currently actively lobbying for Polanski’s freedom. Seems that Applebaum did not mention that.

    Well, well, it turns out that the person who wrote that works for the Los Angeles County district attorney, as he points out in an “update.” Does that matter? No, of course not. One likes to assume that people who bother to write about a wide variety of things are sophisticated, that their views derive from many sources, and that they are not simply a mouthpiece for their organizations or their spouses. For the record, I will note that I mentioned my husband’s job in a column as recently as last week, and that when he first entered the Polish government three years ago I wrote a column about that too. I have to assume that the bloggers who have leapt upon this as some kind of secret revelation are simply unfamiliar with my writing. However, I will also note that at the time I wrote the blog item, I had no idea that the Polish government would or could lobby for Polanski’s release, as I am in Budapest and my husband is in Africa. (My editors later added a link to a news story that mentioned him.) The implication, in any case, that I am a spokesman for my husband — while not quite as offensive as the implication that my daughter should be raped — is offensive nevertheless.

    Of course, there were some very legitimate disagreements, including two excellent ones from my colleagues Gene Robinson and Richard Cohen, and I take some of their points. But to them, and to all who imagine that the original incident at the heart of this story was a straightforward and simple criminal case, I recommend reading the transcript of the victim’s testimony (here in two parts) — including her descriptions of the telephone conversation she had with her mother from Polanski’s house, asking permission to be photographed in Jack Nicholson’s jacuzzi — and not just the salacious bits.

  39. Emma on 30 Sep 2009 at 3:44 pm #

    What does the conversation with her mother have to do with anything? Applebaum = apologist for a rapist regardless of how hard she works the spin.

  40. Historiann on 30 Sep 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    Thanks, PorJ, for the update. I agree that she does herself no favors here. She seems to imply that having a pushy stage mother and/or being eager to be photographed are the equivalent to consent. And that’s just completely fracked up.

    I’m sorry, but unsurprised, to hear that people have suggested that Applebaum’s daughter be raped. Sigh. On another note: I heard the “listener mail” this afternoon as I schlepped myself home, and someone called NPR to task for using the term “had sex with a 13-year old” instead of “raped a 13-year old.” Maybe there’s hope for the future of the republic after all.

    Oh well: you know me. Vox clamantis in deserto, with or without a singalong chorus.

  41. Another Damned Medievalist on 30 Sep 2009 at 8:48 pm #

    I just realized I hadn’t chimed in, but it’s because I’ve been arguing this elsewhere and am just so tired. Especially when you’ve got all kinds of people signing “poor Polanski” petitions, and Whoopi Goldberg saying it wasnt “rape-rape.” The hell?

  42. Indyanna on 30 Sep 2009 at 8:53 pm #

    An update from today’s New York Times coverage of this story. A columnist named Jim Dwyer has a nice, restrained but pointed riposte to the Euro-nihilist view that the enforcement of the warrant is just another example of American puritan vindictiveness gone wild. The Times itself has an editorial in the same vein, although they still describe it as “sex with a thirteen year old” and a bit later, as “statutory rape.” And some author doing screen-writing projects with Polanski has a long, windy op-ed piece in the Euro-nihilist mode. Apparently not arresting the guy on his last fifteen trips to Switzerland constitutes some sort of common law waiver of the writ. It’s somewhat amusing, if anything can be, that official foreign government proponents of the amnesia approach are required by protocol to take their case through the Secretary of State’s office. Not an assignment I’d want to take on.

  43. JayJayCee on 01 Oct 2009 at 6:44 am #

    One note: those who express ambivalence on the matter of holding Polanski accountable because the victim now wants to put the brakes on so that she can get on with her life might consider that this isn’t *only* about a 13 year-old child who was raped. Having worked as an advocate for victims of rape for years – and been a victim myself – I absolutely understand where she is coming from.

    Unfortunately, it’s not only about a single person who has been victimized. Years of “Crime and Order” and the like have distorted our collective understanding of the criminal justice system. Everyone loses sight of the fact that the victim is a *witness* for the state/commonwealth. She/he most often does not get a say in whether the case goes forward. There’s a reason for this: criminals get locked up to help keep all of us safe, not only to attain “justice” for the victim and her/his family.

    I sincerely hope the woman who was once a 13-year-old girl is able to move forward and considers herself whole, intact, and a survivor. But every year I see hundreds of broken women (and some men) who were molested or raped as children, and who have spent their lives trying to “move forward” and make it from one day to the next. It’s no secret that adults sexual assaulted as children suffer more and longer if their victimization wasn’t addressed all those years ago when they were children.

  44. Historiann on 01 Oct 2009 at 9:09 am #

    JayJayCee–good points, and thanks for stopping by to comment. From what I’ve read (including the victim’s request to drop the case), I don’t think the victim feels like she has been re-victimized so much by the D.A.’s office as by the media frenzy and efforts to track her down every time this story hits the news. The victim of the crime 32 years ago is gone–she is no longer present as a 13-year old. She already gave her testimony to the Grand Jury, so people really should leave her alone now that she’s a 45-year old woman with a life of her own. I hope that she’s been able to move on in her own life, and I am very sympathetic to her disinterest of being dragged into a media circus once again.

    But: criminals also get locked up not just to keep the rest of us safe, but to punish crime! There is the fact of Polanski’s privileges and how he’s used them (and has been permitted to leverage them) to avoid punishment.

  45. JayJayCee on 01 Oct 2009 at 11:20 am #

    Yes – Polanski has absolutely used his privilege to avoid punishment! Or attempt to, anyway.

    I hope you are correct and the victim is simply responding to the media frenzy. I had heard that she had “forgiven” Polanski, but cannot remember the source so it may have been rumor. And even if she has, I have not.

  46. Historiann on 01 Oct 2009 at 11:29 am #

    JayJay–here’s the Victim’s Declaration and request that the case be dismissed, via TalkLeft. See point #3, and many of her following points: she’s disturbed and irritated by the attention she gets, which is why she wants the case dropped. I’m struck by how many of her points aren’t at all about the behavior of the D.A.’s office, although of course some are.

    Whether or not she has “forgiven” Polanski is irrelevant to the legal matter. She may have, but that’s more of a personal healing and spiritual issue. Just as we don’t permit crime victims to seek revenge on their own, we also don’t really care if crime victims “forgive” their attackers or not.

  47. Privacy and “postfeminist” rape culture : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 27 Feb 2010 at 8:24 am #

    [...] are so thoroughly protected by the language we use now, which implies that rape victims are in fact the criminals by calling them…  This implies that the accusation of rape is the real act of aggression, instead of the rape [...]