Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Polanski's young victim takes 35-year-long road to normalcy

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This is a jaw-dropping story.

Samantha Geimer is a happily married mother of three sons living in Hawaii, but the appearance of normalcy belies the hellish journey that took her there.

In March 1977, Hollywood was rocked by what was undoubtedly one of filmdom's most shocking scandals.

Roman Polanski, revered director of films like Knife in the Water, Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown, was arrested on charges of drugging and raping a 13-year-old school girl.

The case would not be put to rest for more than 35 years, but despite its high profile and long life, many questions went unanswered, many mysteries remained unexplained.

Who was the guilty party? An aging youth-obsessed celebrity who felt entitled to take whatever or whomever he wanted? An ambitious little girl who had planned to seduce him and earn herself a future as an actress?

Perhaps it was the girl's mother, wanting to live vicariously through her daughter's potential fame, and willing to put the child in harm's way.

At the time and for long after, everybody had an opinion but nobody had the facts about the Polanski story.

Now the girl at the centre of the scandal has grown up and, as a survivor of not only the rape, but all the trauma that followed, has put her experiences on the public record.

Her narrative is gentle, self-effacing, thoughtful and startling in its candour.

The Girl describes the childish confusion and helplessness she brought to the criminal encounter with Polanski.

It lays out the harsh details of the injuries she experienced at the hands of an arbitrary, self-serving justice system as well as a savagely prurient media, but extends forgiveness to Polanski, whom she considered also suffered unnecessarily over three decades of legal stupidity.

Samantha and her family wanted only for Polanski to admit what he had done. They were content with a probationary sentence in exchange for protecting the youngster's identity and her hope for a normal future.

But the victim's rights movement in the U.S. was still in the future, and the family's wishes meant nothing. Meanwhile, everyone but the victim and the defendant, who could face spending the rest of his life in prison, wanted a trial: the judge wanted to sit on top of the international media frenzy; defence lawyers had succeeded in destroying the teenager's credibility and thought they could win; the press lobbied for a trial like sharks on a crowded beach.

Polanski, at the same time, was a formidable opponent -- a one-man money-making industry for Hollywood and its inhabitants. Massive sympathy persisted for the 1969 murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, at the hands of Charles Manson.

Public empathy was in his corner. Finally, when a judge reneged on a negotiated deal for his freedom, the director fled the U.S. and never returned. A high-profile attempt to arrest and extradite him in Switzerland in 2009 failed.

Geimer writes that she forgave Polanski not for his benefit but for her own. Clearly, she is enjoying her new-found strength and freedom from hate and secrecy.

Readers will find her book a lucid and inspiring triumph over an appalling event in America's celebrity culture.

Lesley Hughes in a Winnipeg-based writer and broadcaster.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2013 A1

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