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Roman Polanski and the chain of abuse

  • 12 March 2013

Even in the virtual sphere, a lynch mob can be relentlessly cruel and unforgiving. I discovered this when I wrote an article in 2009 examining the suffering of Roman Polanski.

At the time he was under house arrest in Switzerland awaiting the response of the Swiss authorities to a request for extradition to the US. He was wanted on a rape charge to which he had pled guilty 30 years ago.

Despite declaring that I in no way excused the act of sex of a 40-year-old man with a 13-year-old girl, I received what to me was shockingly vicious commentary from the defenders of justice. Their hatred of a rapist was so immense, that they wished rape upon me, so that I might know how bad it was.

Putting aside the moral inconsistency of such a curse, the truth is that I was already 'in the club'. My first sexual experience had been at the age of 16 and is what I would now recognise to be rape.

At that point in my emotional development I was confused. The man was 36 and a friend of my older sister's then boyfriend, who happened to be a psychiatrist.

When in my confusion I explained to them what had happened, I was admonished for my folly and given an impromptu session with 'the psychiatrist'. I was in my youth and an extraverted joker, and he pronounced me unharmed and well adjusted. It has remained with me as a vile memory that tainted my sexual identity.

Despite this I was deeply moved at the powerful words and images in the documentary, Roman Polanski : A Memoir. Perhaps it touched me because many of my Polish Jewish relatives suffered the fate portrayed in this living testimony of the life of a young boy in Nazi occupied Poland. Now almost 80, Polanski choked back tears as he recalled his father telling him at age eight or nine, 'They took Mother'.

I tweeted a brief emotional comment about the movie and received angry tweets about making excuses for a rapist. I felt violated, but it put me in mind of a paradox: that defence of justice and rage against injustice does not necessarily equate with empathy and compassion, even for the victim. Perhaps, especially not for the victim.

My life was never in danger from 'my rapist' but my heart was. It tore at an already vulnerable sense of self-worth and may have been