Writing about the Polanski controversy, William Saletan asks: “Why aren’t the physical maturity and willingness of the girl—or boy—significant?”
The answer is that, regardless of how those factors might play out in a hypothetical case, in this case the girl was not physically mature and was not willing.
If Saletan had just studied up on the case a little bit before writing about it for a national publication, he might have avoid making several foolish remarks. We’ll help him out a little here.
The Times reports that the authorities treated Polanski “not so much as a sexual assailant but as … a normally responsible person who had shown terrible judgment by having sex with a very young, but sophisticated, girl.” The probation officers’ report “quoted a pair of psychiatrists as saying that Mr. Polanski was not ‘a pedophile,’ ” and it concluded that his offense “appears to have been spontaneous and an exercise of poor judgment by the defendant.”
That’s an entirely reasonable assessment of the incident.
Uh, no it’s not.
We went through this when Whoopi Goldberg claimed that Polanski’s offense wasn’t “rape rape” — but I guess Saletan didn’t get the message. Fine; we’ll repeat it. Here again are excerpts from the girl’s grand jury testimony:
A. I was going, “No, I think I better go home,” because I was afraid. So I just went and I sat down on the couch.
Q. What were you afraid of?
. . . .
Q. What happened then?
A. He reached over and he kissed me. And I was telling him, “No,” you know, “keep away.”
But I was kind of afraid of him because there was no one else there.
. . . .
Q. What did he do when he placed his mouth on your vagina?
A. He was just like licking and I don’t know. I was ready to cry. I was kind of — I was going, “No. Come on. Stop it.” But I was afraid.
. . . .
Q. What happened after that?
A. He started to have intercourse with me.
Q. What do you mean by intercourse?
A. He placed his penis in my vagina.
Q. What did you say, if anything, before he did that?
A. I was mostly just on and off saying, “No, stop.”
But I wasn’t fighting really because I, you know, there was no one else there and I had no place to go.
And then he rapes her anally and ejaculates in her anus.
As for whether this was some kind of spontaneous, isolated, single instance of bad judgment by a non-pedophile, let’s remember that this is the man who said in 1979:
If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… fucking, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to fuck young girls. Juries want to fuck young girls. Everyone wants to fuck young girls!
What about her physical maturity? Saletan says:
A guy who goes after a womanly body that happens to be 13 years old is failing to regulate a natural attraction. That doesn’t excuse him. But it does justify treating him differently.
And that’s exactly what Polanski’s judge and probation officers were inclined to do.
Uh, except that here is a set of pictures of the “womanly body” we’re talking about:
Saletan’s piece makes for a nice philosophical discussion of how various factors might have relevance to another case. But as applied to this case, it’s a joke.
UPDATE: Saletan digs in here:
If you have the goods to convict a man of rape, prosecute him for rape. Don’t invite him to plead guilty to sex with a teenager. That kind of plea deal, coupled with a stiff jail sentence, just furthers the conflation of sexual assault defined by force with sexual assault defined by age.
Not one word about the way that Polanski’s lawyers planned to drag the victim through the mud in international media — which is, of course, the reason the plea went down the way it did.
Thanks to James K. for both items.