Everyday Victim Blaming

challenging institutional disbelief around domestic & sexual violence and abuse

On Victoria Coren’s plea for nuance in our understanding of Polanski’s rape of a child.

Victoria Coren argues for nuance as if we don't understand that rapists can be perfectly ordinary men. Rapists laugh with their children, create beautiful art, they're philosophers, economists, binmen, in short they are people with nuance. We understand this.

Victoria Coren argues that S takes responsibility for drinking and being in a situation where Polanski could rape her, even while she doesn't excuse him for the abuse. Coren argues that this is nuance. That to comment on her victims guilt is patronising. It's not. How could S have been responsible? How? If we accept that she can't have been, and really you have to accept that, then how can we be patronising her by saying 'you weren't responsible'?

We understand that Polanski has never been held to account for his crime, that the system that should have protected S further abused her. How can Victoria Coren be surprised that S seems ambivalent about responsibility when the message she's been given, from almost every quarter, is that somehow Polanski has suffered enough. It's a message that Coren seems determined to underscore with her plea for nuanced understanding.

We live in a world where we want our abusers, our rapists, to be one-dimensional monsters because then we can say that rapists are aberrant, a deviation from the norm, because then they become different from the men that we live with and the film-makers that create beautiful art. They become 'other'. Recognisable. Lacking in nuance. This is the source of the disbelief that seems to surround Polanski the rapist. His sensitivity to suffering, his understanding of humanity and his ability as a film-maker all exist. They're real. They do not negate the fact that he raped a child.

We understand that you don't have to be a monster to rape. We understand that victims have complicated feelings about their rape. We understand nuance Victoria. What you don't seem to understand is that the abuse, the rape, the sodomisation, the crime were not nuanced. He was a grown man that raped a thirteen year old girl. There is no nuance in that.


Admin: We've removed the name of the child as we believe she deserves anonymity.

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10 thoughts on “On Victoria Coren’s plea for nuance in our understanding of Polanski’s rape of a child.

  • heather harvey says:

    Can I recommend this New Zealand study? http://www.aifs.gov.au/institute/pubs/resreport18/rr18.pdf

    Survivors of lots of forms of sexual violence and rape (“date/acquaintance, marital, stranger” etc) were asked to reflect on what strategies their perpetrators had used to manipulate their victim into a position which maximised his chance to rape her with impunity.

    The victims often had been self blaming at the time but on reflection could see that the rapist had planned and manoeuvred and strategised to give himself the best chance of getting away with it.

    It included strategies like being charming in front of all her friends so they and she trusted him when he offered her a lift so it looked like she liked him when she left with him, it included suddenly remembering he needed to stop somewhere, nip back to his flat, take a different route home, it included emotional manipulation to maximise guilt, conformative female nurturing, polite social responses, pity etc.

    A rapist makes choices and decisions both to rape his victim and to maximise her blame/lack of credibility and his impunity – he does this in a society which empathises with and understands male entitlement and blames females. This is the same for joe bloggs or polanski – whether you’ve had a life of luxury of a life of hardship or anything in between.

    • Angela says:

      Other rapists are merely opportunistic, as when their victim is drunk. They may believe the old ‘can’t help it I’m a man’ chestnut.

      The fact remains that where a child (in UK under 16) is concerned she or he can be drinking, behaving in a sexual way including offering sex verbally or by acting out, the response from an adult AT THE VERY LEAST is NOT TO RAPE the child.

      Some children need to be protected from their own misplaced urges, for whatever reason they have them. They may be desperate for love, attention, have been abused before… it really doesn’t matter. They have raging hormones. They are children, protect them, show them respect so they can better respect themselves. Behave like an adult. If you don’t know how to do that, bottom line: DO NOT RAPE ANYONE, LEAST OF ALL A CHILD.

    • Clare says:

      Strategies used!!! How could I not have seen that before. It really wasn’t my fault. he planned it in such a way it was impossible for me to tell anyone. Thank you so much for writing.

  • Rainne says:

    Actually, I would like to disagree with something you’ve said here. “You don’t have to be a monster to rape.”

    In fact, I think the ability to commit rape – particularly the rape of a child – is a specific sign of monstrosity. Just because someone is able to laugh with their children, maintain a steady job, or create a beautiful piece of art doesn’t negate the fact that if they are a person who has raped, they are in fact a monster and should be dealt with accordingly.

    This constant plea for “nuance” that I hear are nothing more than the bleatings of rape apologists: men (and women as well) who want to be excused for their actions if they have committed (or ever should in the future commit) rape, and women (I seldom see men in this group) who hope that if they just show the right placating face and sentiment to men, they won’t themselves be raped.

    If a person is able to commit a rape – ANY person, man or woman – then they deserve to be called out as and treated like the monster that they are. And to say that one needn’t be a monster to commit rape is to ignore the monstrousness of the crime.

    • Nick Kiddle says:

      It’s an ambiguous word, “monster”. On the one hand, you’re quite right that raping a child is a monstrous crime and anyone who can do it is a monster pretty much by definition. But it also has connotations of something completely removed from the rest of humanity, some cartoon figure of evil that cackles to itself while planning its next completely evil act. And the scary thing about rapists is that they are monsters who can completely pass for regular members of humanity and have people who love them and will go to the barricades to defend them and all the rest of it.

    • Lolly says:

      I think that rape is a monstrous act but that to identify rapists as monsters is to ignore the fact that the people that rape are more likely to be people familiar to us. The archetype of a monster is a lumbering beast, slavering at the mouth, easily identifiable. That’s not the reality.

      I’d be willing to bet that it’s Victoria Coren’s inability to see Polanski as a monster that is fuelling her insistence on nuance.

      The sooner we come to terms with the truth that rapists come in all shapes and sizes, that they can be capable of great kindness, understanding and sensitivity and that this does not excuse rape the better off we’ll all be.

  • julie says:

    I feel that it is disingenuous to say that the media and others have victimised Samantha Geimer as much, if not more, than Polanksi has victimised her. While I obviously believe that this is her experience the blame for this, I believe lies with Polanski. If he had acknowledged his crime, attended his trial and served his sentence this story would have gone away. His decision to seek sympathy, try to justify his actions, to flee justice etc etc not to mention the Hollywood buddies who have continued to speak out on his behalf is what has kept this story alive. This story will not go away until Polanski accepts responsibility for his actions. Having said that of course it is natural and healthy for Ms Geimer to forgive Polanski and to want to move on with her life but this should not be seen as reason for the law to forgive what he has done and to stop persuing him and I think in fact that Ms Geimer is not saying that.

  • Anuk says:

    I tweeted Coren this morning after reading the article because I felt she had moved past rape apologising towards empathy with Polanski. I felt that there was even a sort of ‘frisson’ in the way she had written. She tweeted me back to say I was having a ‘weird morning’. 🙂 However, this is a very important subject and very delicate. It must be handled in a more delicate manner. You can’t just write whatever you like because you’ve had a good education and someone pays you. The prisons are full of men who have lives that are more complex than their crime or their sentence illuminates. Working with rapists and perpetrators requires self awareness and insight. When Coren has worked in a Cat A prison and Polanski has served a sentence we may be more willing to hear about her notions of nuance.

  • Hecuba says:

    Males who choose to commit rape and/or male sexual violence against women and girls are not ‘monsters.’ They are ordinary respectable men and are to be found within all ethnicities/cultures/classes. The commonality all male rapists share and this includes Polanski is their belief in the male right of sexual access to females because they are female. This is why innumerable male rapists both those convicted and those who continue to enjoy enacting their male ‘pseudo sex right to females’ all believe they are not rapists.

    Our society condones/minimalises and all too often justifies pseudo male sex right to women and girls. Polanski is a white male who has considerable power and influence which is why his decision and choice to sexually prey on a female child and subject her to sadistic male sexual violence for his sexual pleasure, continues to be justified by his powerful supporters.

    Males who choose to commit rape/male sexual violence against women and girls are not ‘monsters.’ Claiming such male sexual predators are ‘monsters’ ensures we do not ask the question ‘why do so many males sexually prey on women and girls?’ Not all males are male sexual predators but all males are accorded pseudo male right of sexual access to females if they choose. We live in a rape culture wherein males must never be held accountable for their choice/decision/agency to sexually prey on women and girls. This is why victim blaming exists because it ensures the actions/decisions of the male sexual predators continue to be ignored because they are supposedly irrelevant.

    Conveniently forgotten is the fact males make the choice to commit rape and female victims do not ‘provoke’ or ‘seduce’ innocent men! Both of these claims are misogynistic lies which are used to ensure Society’s focus is never on the actions/agency/choice of the male perpetrator but always on what the female victim(s) did/did not do/should have done/did not do in order to prevent a male from subjecting her to rape.

    Is it not strange that given so many adult women have been subjected to male sexual violence when they were female children, yet we do not hear or read of innumerable women subjecting males to rape and/or female sexual violence?

    Furthermore not all male rapists have had ‘horrible childhoods’ because many of these male rapists/male sexual predators have wonderful childhoods but yet these males make the choice to sexually prey on women and/or girls.

    Victoria Cohen misuses the word ‘nuance’ in order to make the false claim that Polanski’s horrible childhood experiences supposedly caused him to make the decision to sexually prey on a female child. Victoria Cohen also blames Ms. Geimer’s mother for not supposedly recognising that Polanski was going to subject her daughter to sadistic male sexual violence. This is an old old rape myth wherein the mother is always responsible for not protecting her child from the male rapist(s).

    However, given all women are socialised as girls to believe the lie that males are to be trusted because distrusting any male is seen as insulting to all men, then we should not be surprised Ms. Geimer’s mother believed Polanski was just ‘another normal ordinary male’ with whom she was acquainted with. Most male rapists sexually prey on women/girls they know and the stranger male rapist is uncommon. Male rapists are experts at gaining the trust of the women/girls they are going to rape and this is why our Society refuses to accept that male sexual predators are not ‘monsters’ but just ordinary males who will use whatever means they can to enact their pseudo male sex right to females.

  • L says:

    It is difficult to imagine to whom/what the term monster may legitimately be applied if not to those who choose to drug and rape children. If they are not to be considered monstrous, the word no longer has a meaning.