Forgiveness Is Not Enough

Roman Polanski’s victim also needs justice.

With the notable exception of actor Jamie Foxx, who said if Roman Polanski had come near his teenager daughter, he would “be missing…. period”, there’s been a lot of talk about forgiveness since Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for a rape that occurred 32 years ago. But very little talk of remorse. Is Polanski sorry he lured a 13-year-old girl to Jack Nicholson’s house while ostensibly photographing her for French Vogue before having sex with her, against her wishes? Does he see it as a crime? Biographer Thomas Kiernan wrote in The Roman Polanski Story, published in 1980, that when he was first arrested, Polanski protested to detectives: “So I f—ed a chick. So what?” She had practically begged him “to f— her,” he said. In 1978, in an interview with the BBC, Polanski said, “I’ve been tortured by this for a year and that’s enough.”

So how long was young teen Samantha Gailey (now Geimer) tortured for? She has called her experience a “life sentence.” In the past few weeks, in some kind of twisted logic, the fact that Geimer, a mother of three boys living in Hawaii, desires to move on has been cited as evidence that the award-winning director should be released. This does not mean that the case has been resolved. Nor does it mean he is innocent, or she wanted it, or that it was just the funky ol’ ’70s where men sported too much facial hair, wore tight shorts, and then hung about in hot tubs plying 13-year-old girls with Quaaludes and champagne before raping them. Yes, and by that I mean rape.

We know that Polanski pleaded guilty to sex with a minor, that Geimer has consistently said it was not consensual, and that as she cried in the car on the way home, Polanski asked her not to tell her mother. We also know that when he thought the judge was going to renege on a plea bargain, Polanski flew to France, fearing a long jail term (where he was often, provocatively, photographed with beautiful actress Nastassja Kinski, whom he had started dating when she was 15). It is this weakness, this decision to flee, and not seek a retrial, which has meant both Polanski and Geimer have not been able to live without constant questioning and pursuit for three decades.

In 1978, Geimer was stalked by photographers daily, accused of lying, and called promiscuous. She called it hell. Her underpants were admitted as evidence. She said she was happy to accept a light sentence for her assailant if it could be dealt with quickly. Then Polanski fled. She went on to sue him in a civil suit in 1988, which was settled out of court. Then, in 1997, Geimer publicly forgave him, saying she had not just survived damage caused by Polanski, but prevailed.

In 2003, Geimer told Larry King: “I got over it a long time ago. I wasn’t prepared to carry a lot of bad feelings with me and further damage my life and continue the trauma of all of it. And today he’s a stranger to me.” What has made her angry, she said, was being “forced to continually tell this story. It was like what happened wasn’t bad enough, now we’ve got to go through it every single day of my life.”

According to the National Women’s Study, 13 percent of adult women have been victims of completed rape during their lifetime. One in four were sexually victimized as children (meaning unwanted sexual touch or intercourse), and almost one in five men, says Dr. Desmond Runyan, professor of social medicine and pediatrics at the University of North Carolina. We know that rape victims are more likely to suffer from alcoholism, depression, eating disorders, and further abuse, but Geimer also shows that it is possible to recover. Dr. Runyan, has been conducting a fascinating longitudinal study of maltreated or at-risk children since 1990. He has found that the most significant factor in determining the ability of a child rape victim to recover was the attitude of their mothers. When they believe, support, and champion their children, they stand in good stead. When they call them liars or compete with them, their chances of recovery are slim. (It also helps to have a high IQ, and strong relationships with adults in their families, churches, and neighborhoods. Those who have fathers in their home are also mentally stronger and less likely to be abused.)

I don’t know if Geimer—whose mother was fiercely protective, if absent on that fateful day—is demonstrating grace, kindness, or sheer fatigue. Since age 13, she has only asked that the case be resolved and she be left alone. Forgiveness is a sign of strength. But her desire for an end should not be confused with the law. Even Foxx, who said he would prefer to take matters into his own hands, told Parade magazine, “I wouldn’t want anyone else to follow that because you should let the justice system work it out.” What I do know is that if we want Geimer to truly be able to move on—and if we don’t believe raping a child is a dandy way to spend an afternoon—Polanski must be brought back to the United States.