Let's Be Less Nuanced
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All I'm judging is Polanski's decision to rape a child.
Punishing rape isn't mindless
Take the Roman Polanski rape case. Several decades back, Polanski convinced Samantha Geimer, a 13-year-old model, to pose topless for him alone. He gave her alcohol and a sleeping pill, then sodomized her despite her saying no. To me that's rape, period, end of statement, which makes Polanski a rapist.
According to columnist Victoria Coren Mitchell, however, that just shows my "terrible dread of nuance ' People have become desperate to reduce everything, including each other, to mindless categories of good and bad."
I don't think there's anything mindless about reducing Polanski's rape of Geimer to "bad" but Mitchell says that's just my desire for simplicity. After all, the adult Geimer says she was stupid to let Polanski get her alone and talk her into drinking wine. And Polanski is a Holocaust survivor and he creates amazing movies, so I have to consider the big picture in judging him.
And if I were trying to sum up his life when he faces eternal judgment, I suppose I would. But all I'm judging is Polanski's decision to rape a child. Saying he deserves to do hard time for that crime doesn't require an opinion about the rest of his life. As far as the rape is concerned, Polanski's genius and personal tragedies are irrelevant.
So is Geimer's alleged lack of judgment. Even if she did make a bad decision, that doesn't excuse Polanski's action or make her somehow to blame. Making bad decisions is normal for 13-year-olds. Adults who are supposed to protect them from the consequences, for example by not raping them when they're vulnerable. And of course, by locking up the rapists.
Mitchell is right, though, that I dread nuance in rape cases. Nuance is the rape apologist's friend. Nuance is "Well, the woman clearly went to that bar to get laid, so she had it coming." It's "You can't punish a talented/rich/well-connected man for getting some like he was a common street thug!" Mitchell's column is more of the same.
And unfortunately, she's not unique. Father Benedict Groeschel of the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, for instance, said last year that in a lot of clerical child-molestation cases, the kids were really the aggressors. They wanted it, and the priests were just so stressed out they couldn't find a way to say no.
Then there's Montana Judge G. Todd Baugh who recently sentenced a 40-something teacher, Stacey Rambold, to 30 days for having sex with a 14-year-old. Baugh's nuanced understanding was that the teenager was fully in control of the relationship, and besides, she was really mature for her age. Following in his wake, Washington Post columnist Betsy Karasik argued that student/teacher affairs shouldn't be criminalized at all. There's a "vast and extremely nuanced continuum" of teacher/student relationships including flirting and crushes and we don't want to criminalize students flirting with teachers, do we?
Well, no. But nobody's calling on Montana to file statutory rape charges every time a student gets a crush, so how exactly does Karasik's nuanced analysis relate to the facts? As legal writer Dahlia Lithwick put it, there are no balancing tests in statutory rape cases; "the 13-year-old really wanted it" is not a legitimate defense. Even assuming the kid's "yes" is a sincere yes and not "yes because you're my teacher and can ruin my life if I say no."
In cases like these, not being nuanced suits me just fine.
Fraser Sherman, : Having graduated college with a degree in biology, no interest in grad school, and no interest in a science career, Fraser Sherman decided he’d try writing. It turned out he liked it. And he was even reasonably good at it. Over the next couple of decades, he sold articles to Newsweek, The Writer, Dragon Magazine (yes he played D&D. Want to make something out of it?), Air & Space and more specialized markets such as Painting and Wallcovering and Gulf Coast Condo Owner. Because he wanted... (more...)