Gauguin was a failure in the Paris art world and a lousy provider for his wife and children so he boarded a ship for Tahiti. Leaving behind his debts and his family, taking with him his resentment, his prejudices and his syphilis he preyed on Tahitian women. Mistaking their customs for a lack of morals, mistaking difference for noble savagery, he ‘discovered’ the Tahitians and translated them to the western world. He also created some of the most beautiful paintings, the most sensitive portrayals of the island people that have ever been made. Your image of Tahiti is probably colored in the shades of a Gauguin poster on a classroom wall.
Life isn’t fair.
Recently I heard a lecture by Linda Ledray; director of a sexual assault nurse examiner program. She said, ‘When I walk into a bar I don’t wonder whether there is an offender there, I wonder how many.’
Knowing what is really going on can make you cynical and frightened. Unlike the heroic antiheroes we see on TV and the movies, perps are as common as dirt. (No offense to dirt, which is useful.) Unlike those imposing hypermasculine guys who get carried away by their uncontrollable passions, a perp is likely to be an insecure man who plans ahead and looks for a victim who can’t fight back. Or one who won’t tell.
The recent Catholic church scandals exposed a sorry pattern of men using their authority and position of respect to get access to children. ‘Father McGillicuddy would never do a thing like that,’ you can hear the believers saying. Because to admit that he could and he did would take the roof off the church. Blaming a famous director for raping a child not only invalidates a lot of people’s meal tickets, it scares us. The only way to keep a comfort level is to blame the victim.
Samantha Gailey (now Geimer), thirteen years old, was not protected by any shield law after she was raped by Roman Polanski in 1977. She was instantly branded a nymphet, a Lolita, a temptress. The poor guy couldn’t help himself. The tabloids loved it.
The child who dreamed of being an actress, of finding fame, instead got notoriety. The man who lied to a mother to get access to a child, the man who enticed that child into taking a combination of drugs and alcohol that could have killed her, the man who violated not only that child but her whole family got a plea bargain.
The rape charges were reduced to ‘having sex with a minor’ because the family could no longer bear to see Samantha put on the witness stand again. In her own words in a 2003 interview in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin…
Polanski had asked Geimer’s mother if he could photograph the 13-year-old girl for a French magazine, and her mother allowed a private photo shoot.
“My mom and I thought the photos would help my acting career,” Geimer says, laughing. “I wanted to be a movie star.”
“I had done some commercials, but I didn’t really want to be a model. I thought this would be helpful.”
But soon after her meeting with Polanski, Geimer began to feel uncomfortable around the director 30 years her senior.
“Everything was going fine; then he asked me to change, well, in front of him,” she says. “It didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to go back to the second shoot. But I didn’t at that time have the self-confidence to tell my mother and everyone, ‘No, I’m not going to go.’”
During that second shoot, Polanski’s motives became apparent.
“We did photos with me drinking champagne,” Geimer says. “Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realized he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn’t quite know how to get myself out of there.”
Polanski sexually assaulted her after giving her a combination of champagne and Quaaludes.
Samantha Geimer gave up on acting after the rape. She did her best to put the whole episode behind her and recover her private life. Today she lives with her husband and children. Every so often Roman Polanski is in the news, reporters show up at her door and Samantha Geimer is forced to tell her story again.
Who would want to be defined by a crime committed against her? Samantha Geimer’s recovery is to the credit of her and her family. That she has forgiven Polanski is to her credit. She wants to move on. It’s a shame that he continues to intrude on her life.
After the plea bargain, Polanski fled to France to avoid going to trial. The press replayed the nymphet story. The wording of the reduced charges was taken as proof that this child consented to sex with a 44 year old man.
That’s still how the press plays it. Polanski is a free man in Paris, wealthy, powerful, respected for his creative work. It is supposed to be a terrible injustice that he cannot come to the US without facing the charges he ran from.
Blaming the great man is so disruptive. Recognizing how dirt common it is for an adult to rape a child makes the world a more frightening place. Accepting that someone could be both a pedophile and a person who has done things that are widely admired requires some growing up.
I wish to god that all the film critics who gush over this director would just face it. Polanski might be a creative genius. He raped a little girl. There is no law of nature that ordains that accomplished people can’t do appalling things. Consistency is seldom found in humans. Polanski himself suffered terrible losses in his life. But his rape of Samantha Geimer required convincing lies to her mother, two opportunities to get her alone, and drugs. Hardly an act of uncontrollable passion. More like the MO of someone who had practiced this before and thought he could get away with it. If Polanski didn’t prey on any other children he would be the exception, but I hope that is the case. Samantha Geimer believes he is sorry for what he did. Perhaps some day he will apologize.
We have two choices in a situation when a powerful man is found doing something indefensible. We can be grownups, and face the truth. Human nature allows for good and bad in the same person. A crime is not less because it was committed by dear old Father McGillicuddy, or the great director.
Or we can invent a fantasy world where conniving children seduce innocent adults. We can portray Roman Polanski as a poor lonely guy, who ‘had sex with’ a girl and now suffers a terrible exile in the film world of Paris. That’s how most of the critics frame it. That’s the message we give our children, that no one will believe their story. That’s a perp’s best refuge.