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Friday October 25, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday October 25, 2013 MYT 8:35:10 AM
by emma brockes
She’s fine: The world might know Samantha Geimer only as the 13-year-old victim in the 1970s child sex conviction against Roman Polanski, but Geimer doesn’t see herself as a victim. — AFP
In 1977, Roman Polanski had unlawful sex with 13-year-old Samantha Geimer, an event that has overshadowed their lives ever since. Now, the ‘victim’ finally has her say.
THERE isn’t much in the way of revelation to be found in Samantha Geimer’s new memoir, The Girl (Atria Books); every rotten detail of Roman Polanski’s conviction in a US court for “unlawful sex with a minor”, flight and subsequent exile in France has been in the public eye for years. What there is, more than three decades on, is Geimer, at 48, having her say.
“It’s very hard to control the narrative,” she says. “But I’m doing the best I can.”
We meet in her publisher’s office in New York, where Geimer is bright with nerves and what is probably a little too much media training.
She and her husband, David, have flown in from Las Vegas and while he paces the corridor, Geimer attempts to delineate a subtle position in regards to Polanski.
As the victim of a sex crime, she isn’t unusual in saying that the experience of going to court and the attendant publicity was more painful than the incident itself. The difference, of course, is that Geimer has never been allowed to forget it. “When I see his name, it’s always followed by ‘convicted’ or ‘13 year old’.” She smiles strenuously. “And that’s always me.”
It is a frank, convincing book, more shocking in its straightforwardness and apparent good humour than a more obviously manipulative account. That day in Los Angeles in 1977 when Polanski picked her up in his car for a photo shoot he said he was doing for French Vogue, she wasn’t wearing a bra, she writes, because she was built like a child (she still wore vests). She was eager to please, because she was a child.
She did as she was told – took the Quaalude, drank the Champagne, got into the Jacuzzi – because she was a child. She took her clothes off when he asked, because she was a child and, without even factoring in his celebrity, went along with his demands in drugged acquiescence, because he was an adult and she was a child.
At one point she asked to go home, but her request was denied. “I didn’t want to have sex,” says Geimer with brittle levity. “But apparently that is what was going to happen.”
Geimer’s initial deposition came out a few years ago, after Polanski was arrested in Switzerland and an aborted effort was made to extradite him to the United States. This was when Whoopi Goldberg, discussing the case on a TV panel show, remarked that what happened was “not rape-rape” – something Geimer has tried to treat with the flippancy it deserves.
Now, she says: “The word ‘rape’ brings up vastly different things in people’s minds. When I was 13, there was no discussion about rape; there was no date rape; I didn’t perceive what happened as rape. I thought rape had to be violent. I think that’s all worth talking about. If you don’t talk about these things, particularly to younger people, how do they protect themselves from it? And how do you teach people that it’s wrong to do?”
Details from the deposition – primarily the fact that Polanski had anal sex with Geimer – gave pause to a few of his supporters, although the reliably absurd French public intellectual and author Bernard-Henri Levy whipped up a quick petition in his defence.
The more interesting thing, at this point, is the extent to which Geimer feels common cause with Polanski. Over the years, she has found herself in an odd position: the plea bargain agreed to by Geimer and her family in 1977 was entered into so that she didn’t have to testify at trial. When, at the eleventh hour, the judge backtracked and exposed Polanski to the possibility of a 50-year sentence, the director fled to first Britain and then France and, as she sees it, condemned both of them to live out this episode for the rest of their lives.
“We’ve been tied together because of that,” says Geimer. “Empathetic is a better word than sympathetic. We’ve shared a lot of similar experiences.”
In 2009, after the release of Marina Zenovich’s documentary on the trial, Polanski sent Geimer an e-mail apologising.
“I want you to know how sorry I am for having so affected your life,” he wrote. It wasn’t an admission of guilt, exactly, but it was at least a softening of his customary flat denial of any wrong-doing.
She didn’t reply, but since then they have been in touch sporadically. This seems extraordinary – both his apology and their continued contact – a subject that Geimer is reluctant to the point of coy about speaking of.
“Over all these years, our attorneys have communicated. We’re not buddies. But, I mean, I have been in touch with him just a little bit by e-mail. Just personal stuff, nothing worth talking about.”
She gives the impression she is protecting his privacy, and, one imagines, the fragile state of detente between them. Has she sent him the book?
“No. I don’t know if he’ll read it. I don’t believe he’s seen it. He’s a busy person, so I’m not sure if it’s something that it’s important to him to get to.” The tone of this – there is no mistaking it – is the deference that creeps into interactions with the famous. It is alive, even now.
Geimer’s account isn’t gilded; in 1977, both her mother and stepfather were stoners, she writes. In fact, her stepfather sold advertising for a magazine called Marijuana Monthly. And her mother was an aspiring actress who encouraged both her daughters to audition and find agents.
But, she says, it was never a case of the ambitious stage-mother effectively pimping her daughter out.
When Geimer’s mother met Polanski at a party and he asked to photograph her child, it just “never, ever” crossed her mind that he wanted to have sex with her. “You know, there’s something about fame,” writes Geimer.
“There just is. I mean, think about the kids who had sleepovers at Michael Jackson’s house and all the accusations that followed. Think about their parents. Were they bad or stupid people? No. They just wanted to believe that being famous made you good.”
When Geimer rushed back into the house that day, “I was upset and knew I had done some things I shouldn’t have done and I knew that what happened was wrong.”
Her mother phoned the police immediately, something Geimer held against her for a long time. The last thing she wanted was for everyone to know.
“I felt foolish. Gosh, why didn’t I stop this? Why did I drink? Why did I take that pill? What is wrong with me? And now look what happened.”
In the furore that followed, Geimer and her mother were comprehensively trashed. For the rest of her teenage years, Geimer drank a lot, took a lot of drugs and had a baby at 18.
“I think I did a lot to forget about it, on purpose, when I was younger.” Then she married, had two more children, moved to Hawaii and led a regular life working in real estate, punctuated by paparazzi camping out on her lawn whenever Polanski made a move.
In 1988, he settled a civil suit with her for a six-figure sum.
Her equanimity towards the director is calculated to defend her from a permanent position of victimhood. People want her to be damaged and she isn’t, she says, although during the writing of the book, she was ambushed by something her mother said.
“My mum said: ‘You were never the same person after that.’” She shrugs. “That’s what happens. I’m probably not the same person after many things. As we all are.”
Her three adult sons haven’t read the book, she says, and she doubts that they will, which is fine with her. Now and then, she has a reaction to something that takes her back to the 1970s.
She was compelled, recently, to write to the teenager at the centre of the Steubenville rape case, who was assaulted by other teens at a party in the small Ohio town and became the focus of huge and lurid coverage.
“It went on and on. And the trigger was an e-mail I got – a mass e-mail, from a women’s activism group – detailing everything that happened, supposedly.
I thought: ‘God, here’s this teenage girl and you’re sending out mass e-mails to tens of thousands of people. Did it occur to you that you might be humiliating her? That she doesn’t want this e-mail going to everyone on your list?’”
In such high-profile cases, the victim becomes a lightning rod for a host of broader anxieties, a role Geimer can report with confidence it isn’t fun to fulfil. Over the decades, she has seen public response to her own story change with the times.
“You’ll notice the culture has shifted so that everything has swung the other way and now it’s Roman the Monster. Then, it was my mum and I the monsters.” They were called liars and gold-diggers. Author Gore Vidal called her a hooker.
“It was terrible and unwarranted, but not shocking. Well, some of it was shocking.”
It was also a long time ago. Polanski should be allowed to resolve his legal issues and come back to the US, she says.
“Because that’s what would be fair. Because it’s the right thing.”
She smiles. “I’m fine.” – Guardian News & Media
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Lifestyle, Samantha Geimer, Roman Polanski, unlawful sex
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