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Call It What It Is

So Roman Polanski - who, let’s remember, raped a child - has been released.

It’s taken me about a week to get around to writing this. Because, frankly, everything about this makes me want to punch people in the face. Not you - I’m sure you’re a lovely person. But Polanski and his supporters. Also… it’s a big story. There’s a lot to cover here - more than one can reasonably cover in a mere blog post. Someone ought to write a book. So it’s also a matter of picking a point small enough to discuss.

As you can imagine, I’ve been reading up on this case rather a lot. It was on author Andrew Vachss’s website that I noticed something of particular interest - Vachss has compiled early media coverage of the case.

In the earliest article on record, it’s referred to as rape.

I was struck by this, because in all of the modern articles, the media infuriatingly refers to this as a “sex case”. Indeed, as early as one year after the rape, the media had already shifted to saying things like “sexual intercourse”. But that first article, from the Washington Post, says flat-out “Polish film director Roman Polanski, widower of murdered actress Sharon Tate, was free on bond today on charges of luring a 13-year-old girl to the home of Jack Nicholson under the pretext of photographing her, then drugging and raping her….In addition to the rape charges, Polanski also was booked on suspicion of sodomy, child molestation and furnishing dangerous drugs to a minor.”

This shouldn’t have made me stop in my tracks. This shouldn’t be rare, this actual telling of the facts of the case. And if you doubt that those are the facts of the case, you should read the testimony (trigger warning on that, of course).

No matter what Whoopi Goldberg says, this is rape.

Call it what it is.

Harriet J has a great idea here for a little culture jamming:

Here is one way you can fight rape culture. If you have just watched a movie with a rape scene:

  1. Go to the Wikipedia page
  2. Note the scene’s description
  3. Note that it likely does not use the word “rape,” but probably instead says “have sex,” “seduces,” or “love scene.”
  4. Revise the description of the scene and use the word “rape”
  5. Go back in 6 months and return it to “rape,” as a rape apologist or rapist has by now has revised it back to “love scene”
  6. Repeat

You can do this with news articles, too, and I hope you will. When you see articles about Polanski, comment on them. If they’re calling it “sex” tell them they have the wrong word - the word they’re looking for is rape. If they actually say rape, thank them. Make this visible. Make them call it what it is.

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Posted by Shira

Shira formerly served as a volunteer with BARCC's Survivor Speakers Bureau and Prevention Services. She also formerly worked as BARCC's volunteer and program assistant. Shira also writes science fiction and fantasy short stories and poetry, and much of her outreach was done within the community of science-fiction fandom and the closely-allied local polyamory community.


  1. Right. I mean, even if she had been okay with it, which she very clearly was not, 13 is under the age of consent and thus this should've even be an issue. This is not even a question.

  2. The thing I cannot figure out, for the life of me, is how the media can be so obstinate about using the word "rape" when it was a 13 YEAR OLD. I don't care how precocious we think kids can be, a middle-aged man does not have "Sexual intercourse" with a 13 YEAR OLD GIRL.

    Then again, the media has never been particularly great about dealing with sexual assault or rape, especially when the accused perpetrator is someone of "importance." Look at the coverage of Al Gore recently. Oy.

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