What's It Like To Be Married To A Rapist?

Roman Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner chalks her husband's rape of a 13-year-old girl up to a "crazy time." It's a terrible excuse — but I can't bring myself to hate her.

In an interview with French Elle, Seigner said, "I am not a super-liberal person who thinks that nothing is that serious. I also think that at the time people didn't live and react in the same way." She added, "It was a crazy time. The attitude to drugs was not the same, nor was the attitude to sexual liberty and permissiveness." Of her relationship with Polanski, who may now be sentenced in absentia to time served, she said, "My personal truth is that Roman is a marvelous husband and man. He is an impeccable man and I have nothing to reproach him for."

Broadsheet's Tracy Clark-Flory takes issue with Seigner's "crazy time" excuse:

We may have a slightly difference cultural perspective now looking back at the incident, but the legal perspective is fundamentally the same: What he did was criminal and is still criminal. Most of us have at some point lied to ourselves to avoid an unbearable truth, but, I'm sorry, this particular case of self-delusion is inexcusable and can't go unchallenged.

Seigner's statement trivializes rape by making it sound like a matter of sexual "permissiveness," and her words are damaging to all those who fight to remind others that sexual assault is never okay. But at the same time, it's hard to imagine how she could stay married to a child rapist without some form of rationalization.

If Polanski hadn't fled, he would certainly have been released by now, and be free to marry or date as he chose. Unless they're committed after their release, sex offenders are allowed to have relationships with other adults, and I'm not prepared to say they shouldn't have that right. But anyone who marries a rapist must have some way of convincing herself not only that her husband won't rape again, but that someone who could commit such a crime is still a man worth loving.


Positive illusions can help sustain any relationship, and Seigner appears to have constructed a major one: that what her husband did wasn't really so bad because he did it during a time of "sexual liberty." From the point of view of rape victims and anti-rape advocates, this isn't the ideal response — it would probably have been better if she had said something like, "my husband did something deeply wrong many years ago, but now he abhors what he did and has become a different and better person, and that's how I'm able to live with him." As much as I wish Seigner had said this, instead of making excuses about the seventies, I'm not sure it's her responsibility to say it.

Of course, I was enraged at celebrities who supported Polanski, and by all rights I should probably be just as enraged at Seigner. Many abusers are protected by those close to them, and while Polanski isn't actively hurting children, Seigner's words may unintentionally give support to those who are. At the same time, Seigner has to live every day with the knowledge that her husband and the father of her children raped and sodomized a thirteen-year-old girl. She has to live with his comments about the "therapeutic role" of young girls in his life, the knowledge that she was still a teenager when they became involved, and the obvious reality that she no longer is. I want to say that I'm shocked she can do all this, but the truth is that people have overlooked worse for the sake of love or comfort, and I understand why she has to defend her husband even if I may not respect it. I know I should be angry, but all I can muster is the hope that she teaches her children that rape is wrong, and that her words don't serve as justification for others to turn a blind eye when their loved ones become abusers.


Wife Says Polanski Is 'Marvelous' Husband [AP, via Yahoo News]
Wake Up, Mrs. Polanski! [Broadsheet]
Polanski's Wife Defends Him Over Child Sex [AFP, via Yahoo News]
Judge May Decide If Polanski Must Appear At Sentencing [USA Today]


Earlier: Roman Polanski, Amanda Knox, And The Problem Of Celebrity Criminals

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