Lohan: The news services blare the news: Lindsay Lohan due in court to begin her jail term. To be honest, Lohan’s name was new to me when it hit the news a few weeks ago: I’ve never seen any of her films. Reporters speculated that the courts have new “get tough” policies: no more sweet deals for Hollywood stars; justice would apply equally to them as well.
Lohan’s crime: Lohan had two DUI incidents, and had failed to follow the requirements of her probation, missing both group treatment sessions and court dates. Some reports described a nonchalant attitude, saying that she really didn’t take her convictions seriously. Maybe she really didn’t think she had done anything wrong.
But now, crowed the papers, she would be in prison longer than her previous 84-minute stay, and find out that she was subject to the same rules as society.
What about Polanski: Where were these reporters when the Swiss government decided not to extradite Roman Polanski? After extended consideration,
“The Swiss government cited problems in the way Polanski’s case was handled in 1977 when he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. The Swiss argue that Polanski served 42 days — and that it’s unclear whether that fulfilled his full sentence. Polanski fled the U.S. after the judge in case demanded that the director spend more time in prison. (LA Now)”
Polanski’s crime: The Washington Post refers to undisputed testimony of a 13-year-old detailing how Mr. Polanski drugged, raped and sodomized her. While pleading guilty to a lesser charge, he acknowledged knowing his victim had yet to turn 14, and later gave the unsettling explanation to probation officers of how sex with the girl “was very spontaneous.”
What is most important? Those who support Polanski recite a litany of reasons. Some (mistakenly) believe that the sex was consensual, or cite the victim’s decision to get on with her life – she is not eager to see the case opened again. Others point to Polanski’s great artistic talent and the many films he has made while not serving time in prison, implying that the films are more important than the jail term. Some disingenuously point out that he was “only” convicted on a minor count, or that it was so long ago that it doesn’t really matter any more. A few – including those commenting on the New York Times webiste – point out that many great artists had lurid and despicable lives, implying that victimhood for some is the price we pay as a society for great art.
Those of us in the Catholic Church who follow the news have been repeatedly disabused of such notions. It is not primarily a moral matter for the confessional and individual repentance, as we thought in the 1960s and 1970s. It is not primarily a psychological matter, where proper treatment will reliably return most offenders to good mental health for further service to others, as we thought in the 1980s. It is a crime against an innocent victim, and society’s response to that crime has an impact not only on the perpetrator, but also on those who might consider carrying out such a crime, or who has to deal with its occurrence in their circle of loved ones.
If Lindsay Lohan’s high-profile court appearance and (probably short) jail stay tell the world that we take drunk driving and probation seriously, how can we conclude that our ready acceptance of Roman Polanski’s appearance at his wife’s jazz concert communicates anything other than the subtle willingness to consider the sexual abuse of a young teenager as really “not so bad?”