Thursday, October 1, 2009

Decades Old Rape Cases Spark Debate

Two unrelated, decades old rapes have sparked world-wide public debate and controversy. But, for me, one of the most shocking twists has been lost in the sound and fury.

In fact, this issue is as old as the hills, sadly linking these two incidents irrevocably: An unrelenting penchant to blame, and even demonize the female victims.

It is the 21st Century, for God’s sake! It is well-past time to understand that it is the men, the abusers, who are at fault and should be held culpable – even if they are powerful, white males.

The first incident involves the sudden arrest of famed – and infamous – Director Roman Polanski underscores the intensity of divisive arguments across the country about sex crimes.

Polanski, now 76, was arrested in Switzerland in late September stemming from an active 1978 arrest warrant from Los Angeles for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. He had initially been charged with a host of really horrible crimes, including kidnaping, and rape, and was also accused of drugging the girl to make her pliant enough to submit.

Polanski went on the lamb after pleading guilty to the lesser offense of having sex with a 13-year-old, but prior to sentencing fearing the judge in the case would sentence him to hard time.

He’s lived in France since then, careful never to set foot on US soil to avoid arrest. When he traveled to Switzerland to accept a film award, he was nabbed by agents as soon as the plane touched down.

The victim, now an adult, has said that she does not want Polanski prosecuted, that she has moved on and doesn’t blame him for what he did. For his part, Polanski has vowed to fight extradition.

In Hollywood, Polanski has received expected and unexpected support from some members of the
film industry, while he has been castigated by many in middle America, and vehemently criticized from right-leaning pundits.

It is very, very unfortunate that the arrest has once again been politicized, shifting the public debate away from the abuse – the crime – that occurred.

In a shocking and rambling diatribe, Whoopie Goldberg, co-host of ABC’s The View, defended Polanski live, on the air, saying, “it wasn’t really rape.”

Goldberg went on to say that the incident was consensual, and that Polanski had NEVER been charged with rape.

Goldberg also opined that she saw nothing wrong with 13-year-old girls having consensual sex. She was mute about the drugging, noting that Polanski had not admitted to that charge. She also didn't comment on his flight from justice.

Her remarks sparked immediate protests and a firestorm of angry web posts. The following day, she tried to diffuse the controversy by explaining that she was simply attempting to strictly adhere to the charge Polanski had pleaded guilty to, so the show “wouldn’t be sued.”

Unfortunately, that argument failed believability because she had misrepresented the original charges. In fact, she had strongly "corrected" the other co-hosts when they consistently, and accurately, repeated the rape allegations.

(FYI: Any even a consensual sexual relationship with a 13-year-old is statutory rape.)

Goldberg finished her "apology" by attempting ill-conceived humorous banter via discussing her long-standing (no pun intended) masturbation history.

I found Goldberg’s rant insulting to women, and girls, not to mention completely insensitive. It was clear that to Goldberg, Polanski had done nothing wrong, and should not have been arrested.

Shame on you, Ms. Goldberg!

Adding to the fray, Actor Debra Winger complained, “the whole art world suffers” in such arrests.

Again, the "art world" should not be the national focus. The incident provides an opportunity to teach girls about date-rape drugs and how to protect themselves from those who view them as prey.

The second incident involves Mackenzie Phillips, actress and former teenaged star of the sitcom, One Day at a Time. Her father was rock’n roll icon, John Phillips, founder of the famed Mamas and the Papas.

In a tell-all autobiography, High on Arrival, his daughter, now 49, details her long battle with drug abuse, which was partially known publicly prior to the publication.

But, the unexpected bombshell was that the pair had an incestuous relationship for 10 years during the time she had been on the sitcom.

An emotional but composed Ms. Phillips told Oprah Winfrey on her show that her sexual relationship with her father had begun in a blackout that involved waking up to being raped, then progressed into a consensual relationship that lasted a decade.

According to Ms. Phillips, when she initially confronted her father about the rape, he replied, “Rape? You mean when we made love.”

Ms. Phillips said that the sexual relationship ended when she became pregnant and didn’t know who the father was. Suspecting it was her father’s, she had an abortion – which John Phillips paid for – “and I never let him touch me again.”

Despite believing the sexual relationship had become consensual, Ms. Phillips called it “an abuse of power” and “a betrayal” on her father’s part. Nonetheless, she said she had forgiven him on his deathbed.

“I can’t be the only one this has happened to,” Phillips said. “Someone needs to put a face on consensual incest.”

Sadly, Ms. Phillips absolute bravery was not universally lauded but her honesty was in fact challenged by a lot of members of the public, and even by members of her family.

Ms. Phillips’ half-sisters – Bijou and Chynna Phillips – were very upset, while her stepmother, Michelle Phillips (also of the Mamas and the Papas,) called her a liar with mental, and drug problems.

Amazingly, Ms. Phillips demonstrated compassion and understanding for the nay sayers, as well as her sisters and stepmother, whom she said she loves.

“If I’ve started a national dialogue that’s going to help people face these issues, then I’m forever grateful,” Ms. Phillips said late September during a followup interview on Oprah.

Ironically, corroboration of Ms. Phillips' account was provided by the daughter of a musician who had been close friends with John Phillips. The young woman said John Phillips had confided everything to her father, exactly as Ms. Phillips had reported. That information was NOT widely publicized.

It was wrenching to see Ms. Phillips discuss what had happened to her. To me, she was honest, forthright, and 100 percent believable.

It was, again, very sad to hear her proclaim that the relationship had eventually become consensual.

When is sex with your father ever consensual? Especially a father who had been abusing their child with sex and even heroin for years. Choice was never an option.

Today, Ms. Phillips is trying to maintain her sobriety by practicing a rigid standard of honesty, something that is taught in many rehab programs.

I would like to suggest, however, that in addition to forgiving her abusive, disgusting and pedophile father, she needs first and foremost to forgive herself.

She did nothing wrong. It is simply flat-out astounding that Ms. Phillips even survived what she lived through. She was purely a victim, holding on to life and sanity the only way possible for her.

Both of these women, Polanski’s victim and Ms. Phillips, need to be embraced for what they have endured. Their abusers need to be viewed as criminals, not victims of the very women they assaulted.

It has also occurred to me that the public response might have been completely different had these vile men been of color.

If they had been, would our society be as eager to exonerate them from culpability through some misplaced machismo that says anything goes if you're a white male.

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