Roman Polanski, the Undetected Rapist?

Just two weeks after Roman Polanski issued his first mea culpa to the press since his September 2009 arrest, a new allegation against the award-winning director seeks to ensure his extradition to the United States.

In February 1978, Polanski fled the U.S. for France, escaping on the eve of his sentencing hearing for charges that he had “unlawful sex with a minor” (California’s euphemistic statutory language for drugging and raping 13-year-old Samantha Geimer). In September 2009, on instructions from U.S. prosecutors, Swiss authorities arrested Polanski as he arrived in Zurich to receive a lifetime achievement award. He is now living under house arrest in Gstaad.

Last week British actress Charlotte Lewis disclosed that Polanski raped her in his Paris apartment when she was a 16-year-old aspiring actor and model, just five years after Polanski fled the U.S.  In an interview with the U.K. Daily Mail, Lewis alleged that after she rejected Polanski’s first sexual advances, the director told her: “If you’re not a big enough girl to have sex with me, you’re not big enough to do the screen test. I must sleep with every actress that I work with, that’s how I get to know them, how I mold them.”

Lewis explained that she decided to come forward now because Polanski was resisting extradition to the U.S. and because she wanted the world to know that Polanski’s assault against Samantha Geimer was not an isolated incident.

Some journalists have called Lewis’s story into question. It’s true that a 1999 interview with Lewis depicted her relationship with Polanski in a different light. But it’s quite possible that Lewis did not recognize Polanski’s behavior as rape until recently–after all, we live in a society where prominent celebrities describe Polanski’s actions against Samantha Geimer as “not rape-rape.” A 2010 study by the Havens, a network of rape crisis centers in London, found that 64 percent of Londoners believed rape victims are to blame if they drank “to excess” or blacked out, 28 percent blamed the victim if she “dressed provocatively” and 21 percent blamed the victim if she acted “flirtatiously.” If rape victims are able to recognize that a crime has been committed, attitudes like these drive many of them to blame themselves and remain silent.

As more details about Lewis’s allegations are revealed, it seems that Polanski behaved as most “undetected” sex offenders do: committing multiple offenses against multiple victims. Because most rapes are never reported to law enforcement, recent studies have begun to explore the phenomenon of “undetected rapists,” those who commit acts that meet the legal definition of rape but for which they were never reported. Researchers such as David Lisak have found that men freely describe these acts, blithely unaware that they are confessing criminal behavior. For example, in a study of 1,882 men at a northeast university, 6.4 percent (120) self-reported acts that met the legal definition of rape or sexual assault. A majority of these men (63 percent) committed multiple assaults, with an average of 5.8 rapes per repeat offender. These men committed a total of 483 rapes and attempted rapes and 49 sexual assaults, none of which were ever reported.

In a 1979 interview with journalist Martin Amis, Polanski said, “If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But … you see … Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!” Dr. Lisak’s research finds that most men who freely admit to “f—ing young girls” without criminal consequences have committed multiple offenses. What are the chances that Roman Polanski has, too?

Above: Polanski. Photo courtesy of // CC 3.0


  1. Blakeney says:

    Regarding the findings of the study done at Northeast University: how do you define the difference between rape and sexual assault?

  2. Blakeney,

    The questionnaire Lisak and Miller used in their study asked the following behaviorally-based questions to determine whether respondents had raped, attempted to rape, or forced someone to have oral sex with them when they did not want to:

    “1.) Have you ever been in a situation where you tried, but for various reasons did not succeed, in having sexual intercourse with an adult by using or threatening to use physical force (twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.), if they did not cooperate?

    2.) Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated (on alcohol or drugs) to resist your sexual advances (e.g., removing their clothes)?

    3.) Have you ever had sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used or threatened to use physical force (twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.) if they did not cooperate?

    4.) Have you ever had oral sex with an adult when they didn’t want to because you used or threatened to use physical force (twisting their arm, holding them down, etc.) if they did not cooperate?”

    David Lisak & Paul Miller, “Repeat Rape and Multiple Offending Among Undetected Rapists,” Violence and Victims, vol. 17, no. 1 (2002), at 77-78.

    In this study, sexual assault was defined as oral sex, while rape was defined as sexual intercourse. Lisak and Miller did not ask about other forms of sexual abuse (such as forced touching).

  3. Perhaps if the amount of effort that goes into warning women and girls not to put themselves in situations that might increase their chances of being raped, went into educating men about what rape actually is and why what they might see as “just messing about” is actually a violent crime perhaps we’d be more successful at reducing rape incidents.

    • yes I agree with you!instead of teaching them silly things as becoming the beauty queen of this or that just educate the girls !Brazil is doing efforts in that area !

  4. I am totally upset with the Country of Switzerland — This rapist gets away with raping people and then flees the country he is in. I’m dissatisfied to say the least. I will now boycott this nation — It is time to take all child rapist to heart and get them to commit to treatment.

    This is another example of how police treat women and certainly rapists.

    Bob Woolsey

  5. It’s refreshing to read an account of the case from the perspective of the women concerned. Most of the coverage at the time focused on the notion that celebrities get preferential treatment by the media when the real issue was the treatment of the victim. What would be news is a radical reform of the treatment of rape victims by both the legal profession and media. This is the purpose the case should serve – not a trite criticism of celebrity culture or a smear campaign on a single individual. No one listened to Samantha Geimer – not the media or the California court that has dismissed her numerous requests to have charges against Polanski dropped due to the harassment she receives every time the case is again brought to public attention and a wish not to have to relive the experience.

    Rape is the only crime in which the victim is considered an accomplice unless she can prove otherwise. In a court of law, her character and past are scrutinised. She’s asked what she was wearing when the rape occurred, how many sexual partners she’s had, how much she’d had to drink – all in an attempt to destroy her credibility so the court can dismiss charges on the grounds that she was asking for it. Short of being, at the time of the rape, an ironclad virgin, she doesn’t stand a chance.

    The case should have been used to address the treatment of the woman, but instead it, largely, focused on the man and the treatment he received.


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