No Means No and Rape Means Rape

Among the unexpected outcomes of Roman Polanski’s re-arrest on the charge of sexually abusing a girl in 1977 a new concept: rape that isn’t rape. The unseemly hypothesis was offered with gravitas by Whoopi Goldberg: that what he did was not ‘rape rape, ’ she said.
Rape rape is?
This manoeuvre is revelatory. It says nothing useful about what Polanski did to the child. But it tells us something important about the distribution of respect and blame.
We know everything we need to know from the testimony given to the Grand Jury by the girl herself. We’ve known for long enough what went on: according to transcripts of the child’s evidence to a Grand Jury (transcripts unsealed, on the web), Polanski set her up, got her drunk, raped her and took the precaution of avoiding a possible pregnancy by anal rape. Her evidence is not challenged. Whoopi is wrong. Rape is ‘rape rape’. She didn’t consent. On the contrary she repeatedly withheld her consent. Her descripton of the mise en scene is flat, detailed, bare. According to her testimony, her commentary during Polanski’s apparently protracted rape was clear and simple: ‘No…no…no…’ She said No and meant No.
What else did this girl have to do to make her non-consent clear? And what else did he – and we – need to know to be persuaded that what he did was rape. As in rape rape.
She said she was afraid. Of whom, what? ‘Him.’
What did she want to do? ‘Go home’.
The semantic debate reprises an era when culpability lay not with the perpetrator but the victim. Above all it is a bid to reinterpret rape as always something else, particularly in a certain strata of society where anything goes, and everything is known.
This is a context where big men’s accountability is only accidental, a bit of bad luck. It is, therefore, a context that encourages complicity.
Now her expressed wish that the case be abandoned is mobilised in his favour. But she at least – unlike Polanski – is holding on to her pride and dignity in a context that hasn’t delivered justice.
She insists that she has not only survived the harm he did, she has ‘prevailed’. She doesn’t want her body to be available for public consumption.
She blames the criminal justice system for this mess. Not only did she not get justice – justice was seen to be not done. And now her testimony is being impugned.
Had Polanski done the right thing in 1977 she would not be in this position. She deserves to be released from this burden by Polanski doing, finally, the right thing: the right right thing.

© Beatrix Campbell
2 October 2009

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