Should the victim’s wishes be respected above all?

vAnn Friedman at The American Prospect says the case of Roman Polanski raises an interesting subject:

Yes, he did wrong.

But his victim wants nothing to do with prosecuting him. Writes Friedman:

…the deeply personal nature of this crime is what makes such a broad response inherently problematic. Many observers were shocked when Rihanna chose not to press charges against Brown. The woman who, as a child, was raped by Polanski later said that she wished prosecutors would drop the case. This may be hard to accept for those of us who saw the photos of Rihanna’s bruised face or read the damning testimony from Polanski’s trial, but these women have a right to decline to get involved with the justice system. Violence against women is a public scourge, but respecting survivors’ wishes must be paramount.


80 responses to “Should the victim’s wishes be respected above all?

  1. The wishes of the victim are not paramount. Carrying out the law takes priority.

    Once a person is arrested, the gummint carries out the prosecution.

    • That’s my view, though I understand why Polanski’s victim would want this to go away. At some point, it ceases to be the victim’s call.

  2. I think the cases are different.
    Polanski was convicted and fled to avoid sentencing. I think the system in this case could meet both public and private demands by allowing Polanski to return to France (?) and stay there without traveling to countries favoring his extradition. He could apply for permission to visit said countries for, say, business reasons. But it would be publicly known everywhere he went and why, with a permanent indication on any visa or passport that as far as the United States is concerned, the man is a convicted criminal. (Rather what I hope Spain does to Bush and Cheney and the rest of the Torture Team.)
    The media attention would eventually subside, saving the victim the prolonged exposure revisiting and continuing her victimization. The law is satisfied to a degree, maybe not the utmost degree, but it keeps Polanski a prisoner inside the lifestyle he chose when he elected to become a fugitive.

    The Brown case is different in that Rihanna sought to end prosecution of the crime.
    I feel for the victims of domestic violence, partner abuse, rape. Their suffering is magnified exponentially by the degree of public attention these crimes attract.
    But everything I have learned about those issues tells me that staying silent only leads to more abuse, more crime. The public needs to know so they can, hopefully, work toward the common goal of breaking the cycle of violent relationships. It’s a sadness. It’s true. But Rihanna is not the only victim. We all suffer as a result of these crimes.
    Our collective demand for justice is the legal system. Those demands need to be met without application of special handling for special people. If we want equal protection under the law, with no person above the law, then we must demand it consistently, or the opposite becomes the rule.

    • They are different cases and different situations, agreed. And I appreciate women having their say in these cases, as well. But once you commit this kind of crime, it really isn’t up to the individual whether you’ll be treated leniently or harshly or anywhere in between. I know the law is not completely dispassionate, but in this case, I’m not sure the victim gets a vote. Did I just say we agree on this?

      • I think so. I don’t believe the system does enough to protect the privacy of victims, consistently, state to state. It’s something that needs serious attention.
        And I think the desires of the victim must be weighed when considering sentencing, or during arraignment. It would be the duty of the court to weigh those desires against the demands of the system, prior bad acts, interdependence, mitigating or aggravating factors existing within the unique facts of each case.
        It’s tough duty. But too many people fought long and hard to get the domestic violence, rape and partner abuse laws we have now onto the books. And we still have a long way to go.
        It’s criminal what men do to women in this country. It’s criminal what men do to women worldwide. They, we, need to be held accountable.

        • I feel for Polanski’s victim. It’s been years and she’s made public statements that she wants to move on. I can apprecaite that, but…but…

  3. The criminal justice system does one thing for the victim (hopefully) and that is put the criminal away for some period of time. It does other things for society. It holds people accountable for crime and it protects society from the criminal for a period of time. (I don’t have it all there, but just to make the point that both the victim and society are served through arrests, convictions and incarcerations.)

    The sad thing is, it doesn’t address all that the victim has to deal with after a crime has been committed. Of course Polanski’s victim doesn’t want to go through all of this again. A victim wants nothing more than to make it all go away. However, as a society, it doesn’t work to not hold Polanski accountable. What message would that send to us. He must be held accountable, in my opinion.

    Domestic violence, child abuse, and rape situations are tricky because the victim can feel unsafe regardless of the course of action. The very idea of exposure feels unsafe because the last thing a victim needs is to be questioned and judged in court and/or in media. The criminal justice system isn’t good at making the victim feel safe and that is why so many of these crimes are commited without punishment, I think.

    • Even though CT has a fabulous domestic violence court advocate program, I wonder if there are any states that cover victims’ needs fairly thoroughly?

      • I don’t know. The question that comes to mind for me is how many women in that position feel safe enough to trust the court system and trust that they will have support during and after the trial? I feeling a little cynical, I guess. Maybe that’s not fair in this discussion.

        • No, it’s all fair. What do you mean, though? If a victim wants to plead for mercy for her abuser/attacker/assaulter, we should respect that above the law?

  4. No. First of all, Polanski is guilty of two crimes, and to not allow him to reside the rest of his natural life in prison makes a mockery of our justice system, affirming that money and celebrity supporters get one off if one simply flees justice.
    Second, there is a reason that in many states the victim is not the one pressing the complaint, the state is. Not only is there the crime of one man, it is also the message it sends to others. It is NOT okay to drug and rape a young girl. It is NOT okay for a man to hit and strangle his girlfriend. Ever. Regardless of what the victim says.

    • I just sat and watched some domestic violence court advocates talk to women here in CT, and the vast majority of those women — some with the wounds still fresh on their faces and necks — are pleading that the courts let their men go, because 1. The men had rough childhoods (to which I want to reply, “Hey! Me, too!”) or 2. The men lost their jobs and don’t feel like men or 3. They’re angry at their mothers (I’m not making this up) or 4. A combination of this stuff. No. I would not want to let the victims have the final say.

      • …and besides, if the women don’t defend “their men,” the men might hurt them again when they get the chance.

      • dj, why do you think they respond this way?
        This is my guess: It can be scary for some women to be without their man and then there is the thought that since he was nice before it must be my fault. So, it’s not really that bad.
        The woman has been seriously threatened to the point of being convinced that her life is in danger is she does put him in jail.

        Someone needs to step in and the victim should not have final say but the victim needs to feel safe.

        • I think it’s a combination of these things. I think it’s women having such a low opinion of themselves that they think this is what they deserve. I think it’s a matter of finances — at least he brings home some money. I think it’s a lot of things I won’t ever understand, on top of things I do understand.

  5. Consider this situation. A man sexually abuses his daughter for nine years. She pleads for leniency in court because, duh, she still loves her dad. They give him 6 months on work release. Is this fair? Just because the victim requested it? Is it fair for his potential future victims?
    On the topic of victim privacy…it’s a travesty. We NEVER respect victim privacy in this country. Did you see those pictures of Rihanna? The family of the man I talked about above was assured his arrest would be private. But there’s always someone with an agenda. The press was called and did a story in the local paper (smallish town) with his picture and put in the story that he had abused a female member of the home. There was no one but his daughter. So everyone she knows at high school, all the kids her younger brothers go to school with, they all know.

    • Shame on — in order — the sexual abuser, the court official who called the press, the press members who reported the incident.

    • Not fair at all. The victim gets victimized all over again. Stuff like that just makes it more difficult for the next person to come forward. It promotes silence. Not fair. I wish this would change. On the other hand, it bothers me when the focus is on the criminal and his/her punishment and nothing is said about how the victim is doing or the help she/he may be getting etc. It’s like once the guy goes off to jail, it’s handled when it isn’t over and done with for the victim.

      • On the other hand, if we kept up with the victim in a public way (say, through the press) that would be a true disruption of privacy. It’s one of the hardest ethical decisions to make in journalism, sexual abuse or assault cases and how much information is important and what information should and can be left out.

      • I’m thinking that the public lacks understanding of a major part of the crime – the part that goes beyond the event. I wonder if there could be a compassionate way of conveying that in a respectful way. I know it’s a tough one. Maybe it’s not possible. The parts that could be left out of the press would be the specific details of the crime from the police reports etc., I think. Do we really need to know exactly what happened first, then next etc? I think that’s awful for the victim.

        • It is awful for the victim. But I maintain that most victims, post-abjudication (I made up a new word, I think) mostly just want to be left alone and out of the prying eyes of the members of the press. And I don’t blame them.

          • I think it’s because it leads to judgmental thoughts and words, and decisions on who to blame for what. Not to mention, the press has a tendency to rerun the worst of it over and over and focus on the shock value. The questioning about whether something was “rape rape” or whether the girl was willing or not or why the mother allowed her to meet with him or why did the victim “allow” it to happen, why didn’t she do this or that…it begins to sound like the victim is to blame. Those kind of media discussions seemed to take up more space than the questions about Polanski’s predatory, evil behavior. Thank goodness there are some good, compassionate journalists out there that don’t sensationalize, but those that do should be ashamed at themselves. So should the people who judge the victims and so should the parents who blame their kids. If there was compassion and support for victims, then maybe prying eyes would be ok. This is why some victims stay silent – just to be left alone and avoid judgment and another kind of hurt. Except that doesn’t work for the victim for very long. Isolation is its own kind of living hell. It’s a crime what we do to the victims after the crime.

            I know I’m not saying anything new here – this just really angers me.

            • As it should. There are good and compassionate journalists out there — in fact, I’d say it’s more like 10 to 1, but the one idiot makes the rest of them look bad.

              • I know. I don’t mean to blame journalists. Its really the people that listen to the one idiot on TV and then say stupid things about the victims that bother me the most.

            • There is help out there for victims that does not require the whole world knowing what happened to them. Most victims of sex crimes do not want anyone (in public) to know about it. However, they have counselors and support groups available to them. In most cases, these services are offered through the police via victim advocate groups.
              There is NO reason to make the victim’s name public. To walk around with everyone knowing is to be victimized all over again. I know a few victims of sex crimes, the one I talked about before who was abused by her father, my sister who was drugged and raped a little over a year ago and my best friend who was raped at 15 and is now raising the child who was a product of that rape. My sister told NO ONE. My mom figured it out and then paid for her to go to counseling but she only told me about it this year and we are very close. My friend has endured so much judgment for being a teen mom, she could say, “I was raped” and have sympathy instead of judgment but like she says, it’s nobody’s business. Who wants sympathy from people who would judge you anyway?

              • …and all this ties in with the newer entry about women’s victimization being “entertainment.”

              • You’re right. There is help out there and it’s nobody’s business who gets the help. I guess I’m coming at it from the viewpoint of a journalist. We more often need to back off and/or tread lightly on these cases.

                • I don’t think there’s enough help and it’s expensive with or without insurance. I know someone who searched for a support group for several years and never found one.

                  • In this area? In CT, I mean?

                    • Yes. There may be help for victims of sex crimes immediately after the crime, but there’s not much of anything for those who have kept quiet for years and then want to talk. There seems to be support groups for everything else, but not for that. That’s not right.

                    • That’s why reduced fee counselors are so important.
                      I belong to a very small group online for survivors of abuse who are struggling with repressed memories. Some of us have no memory of the actual abuse. There are a lot of resources online and I hope it continues to grow because the internet is where we go now and it feels incredibly safe to “hide” behind your computer while interacting with other survivors.
                      If you are interested in finding out what is available, you should look at which was started by Tori Amos. It’s an amazing tool for survivors no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.

                    • Oh, excellent. Thank you, Vegas. I was thinking in terms of face-to-face interaction with other survivors, but this works marvelously.

                    • Face to face would be best.

                    • I just went to and went to their internet chat hotline. Unfortunately, they had no support group information and all they could tell me was to contact my local crisis center. (already tried that a while ago – I suppose I could try again) I asked about online support groups and they said they don’t endorse any. The search continues…

                    • What did they say at your local one? I prefer internet for group support and I see a private therapist (through my old church) for face to face. I never contacted anyone locally because I was too afraid to talk to someone I could see. I was already seeing my therapist for depression, anxiety, PTSD when the abuse came out so it was a nice, safe place to process. Finding the right therapist can be so difficult. Before I found the one I like I saw two others, one was okay but after I stopped seeing her she breached confidentiality and the other did more harm than good. I saw another one later on who also did more harm.
                      Another website is,
                      they are fantastic but I don’t know if they have a local support option. They have message boards though and people there can usually give you tips on finding what you need.

                    • They told me they weren’t aware of any when I called, but that was awhile ago. I know it’s hard to talk to someone face to face. Trust online or off is hard for me – I’m not even feeling all that comfortable with this discussion. I’ve also had a therapist that did more damage than good. I have a great therapist now. I actually did find one support group at one point. It wasn’t facilitated by a therapist, didn’t screen the people who came and included men & women, so after going twice I stopped. It didn’t feel safe. I’ve been having a little trouble lately (recent interactions with surgeon and other things have shaken me) and I’m feeling like I really want a support group and it is frustrating to not find one…again. I’ll check aftersilence. Thanks, Vegas. I hope you find peace with it.

                    • It is frustrating that it is hard to find help. It is hard enough to make yourself get the help without having to get through roadblocks. When things were getting most difficult for me (I was already in therapy) I started going on the message boards at survivor websites and found comfort just knowing there were others feeling as crazy as I felt. Lots of googling later I found a yahoo group for repressed memories (it can be hard to fit in with other survivors when your memories aren’t strong which is why I wouldn’t even consider face to face groups). I like the yahoo group because nobody else can read what you’ve written except the people on the list (it’s an email group) and everyone is approved ahead of time by the moderators. I’ve been with the group for several years now and it’s usually very quiet unless someone new comes along or someone is having trouble.
                      I hope you can find what you need, Jac.

                    • It sounds like you’ve found a helpful and healing place. That’s huge, Vegas.

                    • I’m lightyears from where I was about 4 years ago. It’s a hard, hard road though.

                    • Isn’t it? Rock on, Vegas. Imagine where you’ll be four years from now.

                    • Thanks, Vegas. I’m really glad you’ve found the right mix of support. I know what you mean about the roadblocks. It took me so long to decide to ask for help – I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t that bad, but it was very bad. The last thing I imagined was that there would be so many roadblocks & rejections. It was devastating when I first started looking for help and now it’s more frustrating to me. I know I’ve come a long way, too, but, damn it, sometimes I find I’m not as strong as I thought I was and can’t keep it together too well. I’m imagining a support group would be helpful in dealing with today’s struggles in light of the past in an understanding, patient, compassionate way because they live it, too. Isolation is hard.
                      Thank you, too, dj.

                    • MWAH, Jac. That’s a big ol’ internet kiss.

                    • Jac, if you ever feel the need, you can email me. I’m not much, I’m just there.
                      vegas710 at yahoo dot com

                    • Thanks, Vegas. That’s a comfort.

                    • I’m reading this and kind of tearing up, Vegas. So here goes: Vegas, I love you, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.

                    • I feel like singing something from a disney movie. Caaaan you feeeeeel the looooovvve…

                    • I love you guys!

                    • For real? I believe I can help you look locally, if you’d like that.

                    • I wonder if some of the support groups available for recent victims are also open to people for whom this is far in the past.

                  • You are absolutely right. The girl in my previous story who was abused by her father was in counseling for years before she told anyone. Of course, once it came out the whole new nightmare she had feared all those years came true. Everyone found out and the victim is left knowing that she will be scrutinized for her behavior toward her abuser.
                    I found therapy through my local church. It’s there if you need it but you have to search and it’s hard enough to accept therapy at all, even more when you have to hunt for it.
                    None of that is solved by making the victim public. It’s not healthy for the victim to keep it in but she can tell one person or she can tell two people. She doesn’t need her entire high school knowing about it, no good comes from that.

              • Oh Vegas, I’m so sorry to hear that your sister and your friends were hurt that way. My heart goes out to your sister; it must have been so difficult for her to hold it in like that and then difficult again to have your mom and you find out. Even with the closest family and friends, it’s hard to trust a person enough to believe you won’t in some way be blamed or judged if you speak about it. I wish that people were more compassionate and that victims could trust that. But the sad fact is, even some family and friends do not respond in a compassionate way. I wish it wasn’t this way, but yeah, you’re right, there is no reason to re-traumatize the victim by making the name known. Unfortunately, I know a few victims, too. Keeping quiet can be a way to self-protect and that is harmful, too. I have mixed feeling about that. What I wish for, I’m afraid, will never be.

  6. Its financial too. A young boy at my kids’ school was physically abused by his father, and his mother told him that it was his (the child’s)fault that dad was in jail and that they couldn’t pay their rent.

    • Jesus H. Christ. I hope someone sat that mother down, and also sat that boy down and explains the truth.

    • Oh right, the kid WANTED his father to abuse him, and it’s his fault. What is the MATTER with people?

      • She said it in front of a court mandated reporter, who told her first that she was a terrible person and then called CPS to investigate for more abuse. I’d totally take this little boy – he’s 7 (now) and I think could really shine with a postive household.

      • I just hope someone is telling that boy the truth, that it’s not his fault, that things will be OK.

  7. “Justice” is a weird thing. Laws are broken and sometimes, in the process, people are hurt, but rarely does the punishment deal with the actual hurt that’s been caused. I guess the laws are designed to try to keep the perpetrator from continuing to hurt, at least for a while.

    But the victims don’t get much out of criminal court procedures, right? No one can take away the pain of physical or mental injury, or the loss of a loved one, or the loss of sentimental possessions once they’re gone. There might be some civil action that brings SOME satisfaction, but for the most part the victim does not go back to zero.

    A convicted person “pays his/her debt to society,” maybe — and the victim walks away from the trial and thinks “wait….” I’ve never suffered ANYthing like what the above-mentioned women have — just some broken bones caused by a reeeeeeeeally drunk driver. He went to jail and I went back for some more surgery, so society was protected from his stupidity for a while.

    • And I’m wondering how justice would have been served in your situation. Jail time, sure. But was that justice for you?

      • No, of course not. And that’s the point. I wonder if criminal sentences ever do provide justice to the victims, especially when the crimes are of a personal nature (meaning the criminal sets out to do something to someone else intentionally). That wasn’t my case, thank goodness — he “simply” used astonishingly bad judgement.

        • But still, the whole idea of justice is slippery. Justice, in your case (and this is just my opinion) would be to rewind the tape back to five minutes before the drunk driver chose to drive drunk.

          • Barring that magical situation (which would have been better for me, him, his family, the cops), I suggested, in my victim’s statement at court, that he be made to mop up the emergency-room blood from similar crashes. I have no clue as to whether he ever did any community service following his incarceration. And that’s still not making anything right for the victim (in this case, me, but ANY victim in any situation), if that’s what “justice” is about.

            • That is one of the most creative ways of dealing with such a situation that I’ve ever heard.

            • “Justice” seems to be more about making society feel better, I think, Cynical. Your experience sounds like it was pretty terrible.

              • It was time-consuming and painful, but the experience was NOTHING like what a victim of abuse goes through — I was just using the situation as an up-close example of what “justice” does and doesn’t achieve.

  8. Breaching confidentiality? That’s a very serious offense.

    My wife is a clinical psychologist working in a state psychiatric hospital. The most that she might tell me is “We got a new patient today.”

  9. BTW- I also teared up after reading that, too.

  10. Okay okay, I love you too, both of you. I just don’t like saying it.

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