Marci A. Hamilton

From Polanski to "Big Love": Hollywood's Twisted View of Child Sex Abuse

By MARCI A. HAMILTON
Thursday, October 1, 2009

When it comes to child sex abuse, the world is divided into two groups: the adults who are taking action to end this scourge, and the adults who protect the abusers. Sadly, many of the power players of Hollywood -- with all of its money, power, and access to the media – fall into the latter category.

First, as I discussed in a prior column, we had Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson producing HBO's "Big Love," which merely winks at the sexual degradation of girls in the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints enclaves, but never shows the system in an accurate light that would reveal its true, abhorrent nature. If the pretty fictions were stripped away, the show would be unrelentingly bleak and horrifying: a portrait of a male-dominated society that is inherently inimical to women's rights, progress, and power.

Now, we have the specter of many in Hollywood rushing to Roman Polanski's defense for his proven statutory rape. Three decades ago, as has been widely reported, Polanski admitted to drugging a 13-year-old girl with quaaludes and alcohol before proceeding to have sex with her. After being turned in, he first pled down the charge and then skipped the country to avoid his punishment. Yet much of Hollywood seems to think his evasion of justice is just fine, and ought to continue forever.

Polanski's Case Should Not Be Controversial: He Must Face His Punishment

Currently, Polanski is sitting in a Swiss prison fighting extradition after finally being arrested for his crime. His lawyers are fighting to keep him from having to face United States law. And many among Hollywood's elite are signing petitions in his favor. He is a great artist, they and the French say, so just leave him alone.

Therein lies the recipe for the perpetuation of child sex abuse. If you close your eyes to the first known victim, then you are choosing to let the child predator move on to the next one. Adults who prey on adolescent and teenage children rarely limit themselves to one victim, and Polanski is no different. He had a "romantic relationship" – to use the common euphemism here -- with Nastassja Kinski when she was only 15. Do the Hollywood icons rushing to his defense believe that he limited himself to sex with only two underage girls? Come on. The safe money is that they even know of some of the other victims.

Once again, the adult's self-interest is being used to rationalize treating proven child sex abuse as though it is trivial, as though it leaves no lasting mark on a child's psyche or soul. Hollywood's defense of Polanski is no different than the Catholic Bishops' shifting of child predators from parish to parish.

Both are serving reputation and power at the expense of basic child safety. Polanski's girls have been the fodder of the "great artist." What do a few statutory rapes matter, when you have the man who produced "Rosemary's Baby"?

This society is so sick, that even Polanski's first known victim now takes his side. I don't even want to imagine how many from his circle have worked, over the years, to persuade her to abandon her own interest and that of other likely victims. What child sex abuse victim has a chance, in a society where the largest church and the titans of Hollywood side with the perpetrators and publicly say, "Let it go"? To the millions of child sex abuse survivors in the United States, I apologize for the heartless and self-serving adults who thought when you were young – and continue to think now -- that your issues are not their own.

The nub of the problem is this: As adults, we value high achievers and we trivialize the profound effect of childhood sexual abuse on the victims, and on society as a whole. Polanski is a great artist; priests and bishops are revered for their sacrifices for God.

This is how adults permit themselves to be duped by the likes of Polanski: Child predators are, all too often, charming and attractive. That is how they get what they want. He is obviously no different from the mainstream abuser who gains the child's and the family's trust to obtain the sexual favors he or she seeks. The difference is that he has snookered most of an industry to his crooked and debauched behavior.

So if Hollywood's elite is going to whitewash fundamentalist polygamy and excuse Polanski because of his artistic achievements and his charm – while ignoring their predatory sexual acts -- then its members must also excuse most of the rest of the child predators in the United States, too. Let us be absolutely clear: Those shielding Polanski are choosing the sex abusers over children. It is an either-or choice.


Marci Hamilton, a FindLaw columnist, is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge 2008). A review of Justice Denied appeared on this site on June 25, 2008. Her previous book is God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press 2005), now available in paperback.