The decision by Swiss authorities Monday not to extradite Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski over his rape of a 13-year-old girl provoked anger and disappointment in the U.S., though Washington made no retaliation threats.
Conservative critics saw the release as the latest example of European “sophistication” about sex and/or Hollywood rallying around one of its own, while some feminist and anti-rape groups saw sexist excuse-making and coddling of the rich and famous.
“Making him a heroic figure is a paean to pedophilia,” said Judith Reisman, president of the Institute of Media Education and a longtime Polanski critic. “It is a tragic fact that he was released, but it fits the European model, and it’s not a model the U.S. should follow.”
Polanski was released from his seven-month house arrest at the Milky Way, his three-story vacation chalet in the luxurious Alpine resort town of Gstaad. He was on his way to a film festival in Zurich in September when he was arrested on the request of U.S. authorities.
“We’re disappointed when people who abuse children aren’t held accountable. Unfortunately, people who have access to money and power oftentimes are perceived as being above the justice system,” says Karen Baker, director of the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
The Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police said the U.S. extradition request did not provide confidential testimony the Swiss said was needed to refute Polanski’s claim that he actually had served his sentence before fleeing the U.S. The department also said U.S. authorities had known of his frequent presence in Switzerland yet had never acted on it.
“Roman Polanski would not have decided to go to the film festival in Zurich in September 2009 if he had not trusted that the journey would not entail any legal disadvantages for him,” the Swiss justice ministry said.
State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley laughed at the Swiss claim.
“A 13-year-old girl was drugged and raped by an adult,” he said. “This is not a matter of technicality.”
Mr. Crowley said he did not know of any actions planned against Switzerland but said “it sends a very important message regarding how women and girls are treated around the world.”
A Los Angeles Superior Court spokesman told reporters that the “warrant remains outstanding.”
Polanski was born in France but raised in Poland in the 1930s. A Jew, he escaped the Holocaust during World War II, but his mother was killed at Auschwitz. He became a world-acclaimed director in the 1960s with films such as “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Knife in the Water” and made his way to the U.S., only to see his wife, Sharon Tate, and some friends killed in the gruesome Manson family murders.
The director fled the U.S. to avoid sentencing after having pleaded guilty to raping Samantha Geimer. He acknowledged rendering the 13-year-old helpless with champagne and drugs and forcing himself on her despite her pleas to stop during a 1977 photo shoot at the Hollywood home of actor Jack Nicholson, with whom he had his greatest success with the film “Chinatown.”
He had not set foot in the U.S. since 1978, spending most of his time in France, which does not extradite its citizens to the U.S.
John Nolte, editor of the conservative-leaning film site Big Hollywood, said Hollywood has sympathized and made a hero out of Polanski for decades, awarding him the best-director Oscar for his 2002 film “The Pianist.”