Roman Polanski, who admitted to raping a 13-year old girl (no, he didn’t call it rape, but I refuse to say he had sex with her, since that would require him being with a partner who could and did consent) but fled the US before he could be sentenced, was arrested by Swiss police as he entered the country on his way to the Zurich Film Festival. To read the news reports, however, you would think that his arrest was the injustice, rather than his crime, was the injustice. As usual, when a wealthy man is held accountable for such crimes, rape apologism comes to the fore.
Let’s start with CNN. Their headline reads “Polanski arrested in connection with sex charge“: “in connection” as if he were not the one who committed the crime and “charge” as if he had simply never been to trial rather than running away after pleading guilty. That “charge” error is repeated in the first sentence, in which it is referred to as “a decades-old sex charge”. Notice that it is referred to as “sex” rather than “rape”. Notice, too, how “decades-old” is used to suggest the contemporary irrelevance of his crime rather than to express outrage at how long he managed to elude capture for long. Indeed, he is not referred to as a fugitive. Rather, we are simply told that he “has lived in France for decades to avoid being arrested if he enters the U.S.” The article does eventually note that Polanski pleaded guilty to one charge, but this is sandwiched between a defense of his character from Anjelica Huston and a certain grossly biased documentary.
The headline and opening sentence of the AP article fail in ways similar to CNN’s. Rape is called sex. Polanski is presented as a passive party. The note that he pled guilty does come a bit sooner in the text, however. Unfortunately, the article spends far more space trying to build up Polanski as a sympathetic character, going into the details of his successful movie-making career and mentioning both the murder of Sharon Tate and his own escape from the Krakow ghetto. This information is not relevant to the case at hand; frankly, it’s insulting to those who have lost loved ones to violence and to others who have escaped genocidal regimes to imply that it is.
ABC goes with a generic headline which at least avoids some of the problems of the other two: Movie-Maker Polanski Arrested in Switzerland. Still, the story’s author also seems determined to paint Polanski as a sympathetic figure, even referring to his “turbulent life” in the first sentence.
I could go on about this forever. Google News lists 188 articles and not one I’ve skimmed appears to be much better. Fifty one of those article include this gem reported by the AP:
In France, Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand said he was “dumbfounded” by Polanski’s arrest, adding that he “strongly regrets that a new ordeal is being inflicted on someone who has already experienced so many of them.”
Poor baby. Perhaps he should have tried not raping. Here is what all these rape apologists fail to understand:
- Rapists choose to rape. They use their agency to take away another’s, whether they do so through brute force, drugs and alcohol, or targeting someone otherwise unable to consent.
- This means that having lived a difficult or turbulent life does not make someone turn into rapist, nor does it give them an excuse for raping or a pass to escape punishment.
- It also means that rapists should be referred to as active participants, not as merely having some unspecified connection with their crimes.
- Even a rich white man who flees the country to avoid jail time is a fugitive. He isn’t just living elsewhere.
- Rape is not sex.