When I was thirteen, a boy named Donald approached me in the schoolyard and told me that I looked like a boy. “I bet you are a boy,” he said. “You have no boobs.” I flushed and moved to walk away, but he clutched my arm and held me there. “I’m going to feel them to see if there’s anything there,” he said, grinning, and then he grabbed at my chest and squeezed, hard. I pushed him, turned on my heel, and ran while his laughter rang in my ears. It still rings, even now, when I think back on it. I can still remember exactly what it felt like, that day; I can still feel my chest stinging, and the hot flush of humiliation on my cheeks, the tears burning a trail down my face and dripping off my chin, the lump in my throat choking me, making it hard to breath. Boys are terrible, I thought at the time. Boys are terrible, awful, horrible things and I will never let one touch me again.
I was thirteen years old. I got over it, sort of, just as I kinda sorta mostly got over being grabbed and touched and groped by other boys and men in the ensuing years of my girlhood and young womanhood and not-so-young womanhood. How many times did some guy get too aggressive? How many times did a stray male hand wander across my chest or my ass or my thigh? How many times did I have to shove some man away? How many times did my cheeks flush and throat constrict and heart pound as I shouted or croaked or whispered, no? Too many times. This, too, for almost every woman I know: too, too many times. But the worst still remains that first time, in the schoolyard, when I was thirteen, when I didn’t know, yet, what attention from the opposite sex was supposed to feel like. When I was still a child. When it had the power to ensure that I would forever be made just a little bit uncomfortable by any but the most welcome male attention. When I was still a child.
When Samantha Geimer was thirteen years old, Roman Polanski drugged her and anally raped her. He did this when she was thirteen years old, when she didn’t know, yet, what attention from the opposite sex was supposed to feel like. When it had the power to ensure that she would forever be scarred, forever terrified by any but – maybe – the most obviously benevolent or harmless male attention. When she was still a child.
She did not, I imagine, get over it.
Roman Polanski, however, did get over it. He evaded full punishment for his crime by fleeing to Europe, where he continued to make films and live the life of a celebrated filmmaker and never express regret or remorse for his crimes, because, after all, “everyone loves to f— young girls!”
One would think, then, that Polanski’s apprehension, after all these years, would lead to wild applause and widespread gratitude toward anyone that anything to do with ensuring that he was brought to justice. One would think, but one would be wrong. Because for many people, what Roman Polanski did wasn’t a crime. Or if it was, it wasn’t a very bad crime. Or even if it was a bad crime, maybe, it’s not really important, right? Because he’s a brilliant man, and brilliant men shouldn’t be held responsible for things like, oh, say, child rape. So they – he – shouldn’t be punished.
This, I think, is a moral outrage of the most despicable order. It is a moral outrage of the most despicable order not (that is, not only) because the raping of children – the raping of anyone – is absolutely repugnant and indefensible on any grounds whatsoever (and it is that), but because such a defense of rapists sends the message that, oh hey, the sexual exploitation and abuse of women and children? Is not so bad! Not for everybody! Not all the time! Its badness is RELATIVE!
I have a daughter, and the idea that she might someday be sexually assualted in even the most minor, schoolyard-boob-grabbing kind of way sickens me. But I also have a son, and this whole issue sickens me even further on his behalf: what message does it send to boys when leading figures in popular culture and entertainment publicly proclaim their belief that what Roman Polanski did was, simply, not so very terrible? That he doesn’t deserve punishment for what he did? That there are distinctions to be made between rape and rape-rape and not really so much rape as just some guy making a wee mistake and oh, hey, also, he’s an ARTIST and BRILLIANT and RICH, so, you know, it’s different for him? That sexual assault – sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, rape – is ever, EVER, anything other than criminal, and morally repugnant?
What message does it send to our sons when the rape of a young girl is dismissed as something that is not that bad? What message does it send to the would-be Donalds of the world? To the would-be Roman Polanskis? To all the boys and men (and, yes, perhaps, women) who would grab and grope and hurt and rape, and to all the boys and men who wouldn’t? That sometimes, it’s okay? And that even if you wouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t necessarily condemn someone who does grab or grope or rape… who? Your sister, your mother, your wife, your lover, your daughter, your child?
Our sons deserve better, because our daughters deserve better. Our community deserves better. We owe it to our children, to the future husbands and wives and partners and lovers and employers and colleagues and teachers and neighbors and schoolyard knuckleheads of our community, to teach and preach and proclaim loudly, insistently, that it is never, never okay to interfere physically – sexually or otherwise – with another person without their meaningful consent. That, especially, imposing one’s self sexually upon another human being causes irreparable harm, that it is destructive and terrible and deserves every kind of legal and moral censure. That it is shameful, criminal, wrong. And that a good community, that good people, do not tolerate it.
Anything less is deplorable. It just is. And if the giant mutant puppets of Yo Gabba Gabba can grasp this while Bernard Henri-Levy and Peter Fonda and Debra Winger and MILAN FUCKING KUNDERA cannot? Then my faith in the good sense of thinking human beings is well and truly rattled.
And that just sucks.