Immediately after the arrest of Roman Polanski, an overwhelming and surprising movement of support for a man convicted of drugging and raping a 13 year old girl in 1977 came from Hollywood celebrities to political leaders. In return the media has certainly responded with a backlash of criticism towards those who seem to expect Polanski to be treated differently because of his status or have actually defended his crime as being less appalling than the hard facts have suggested. In addition to being a sufficiently disturbing example of how many people still believe that being famous provides a free-pass from moral standards, the entire case also serves as a sobering reminder that rape myths are still predominant in the world despite the large amount of discourse examining them.
Rape myth was a term coined in 1980 to describe the false beliefs that people have about rape, rapists, and rape victims. These can include beliefs that only certain types of women are raped or that rapists are usually aggressive, desperate males. Many of the public comments from Polanski’s high-profile defenders have only worked to perpetuate some of these long standing beliefs about rape. One common rape myth is that only strange, scary men rape. Polanski just doesn’t fit that stereotype. Many celebrities may see him as part of their group, and it’s hard to imagine someone in our group doing something which we commonly ascribe to occurring elsewhere and “not to us”. So his “friends” were left with having to find ways to make his actions seem less immoral. Meanwhile, our love of “The Pianist” makes us unable to cope with the inconsistancy of our affinity for a man who created something we like and detest for his deplorable actions.
Some argued in Polanski’s defence by derogating the victim. Many people reporting on the incident said that Polanski couldn’t have known she was only 13 because she acted more like an adult than a child. All these statement work to further the myth that only certain types of women (and thus, only “other” women) are raped. Rape myths reflect people’s just-world needs. We need to make sense of something terrible that happens so we fall back on our desire to believe that the world is ultimately just and thus, those who were raped must have deserved it. Given the incredible sway and press that celebrities receive, their support for rape myths is particularly frightening. Unfortunately, time and time again these myths have been shown to not only be untrue, they are dangerous. They place blame on rape-victims which can lead to fewer women reporting sexual crimes and, as the case of Polanski has shown, can lead to less support for justice.