11/28/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Poland and Polanski: Chemical Castration in the News

In an irony that will not be lost on him, Roman Polanski chose a rather ill-timed moment this week to get arrested for the 1977 incident that closely follows most biographical descriptions of the Oscar-winning director.

Polanski, having avoided the United States for 31 years allegedly because he doesn't want to deal with a 1978 U. S. arrest warrant against him for having sex with a 13 year old girl (he would have been 44 years old at the time of the incident), apparently failed to realize that Switzerland has had an extradition treaty with the United States for around 60 years now.

The Polish-French film director was detained by Swiss authorities before he could participate in a tribute to him at the Zurich Film Festival.

Coincidentally, Poland has been in the news this week for approaching a status as possibly the first European nation to mandate chemical castration for sexual offenses against, amongst other things, children under the age of 15.

Sounds like Polanski might have to add Poland to his list of countries to avoid in the near future. That is, of course, depending on the eventualities of this weekend's Swiss arrest and the Polish legislative system.

Unintentionally, however, Polanski's arrest brings world attention to an issue that the Polish government deems rather straight forward: adults having sexual relations with children is not merely wrong in a way that is rather obvious to most people, but steps should be taken to prevent repeat offenses by known individuals.

If the allegations against Polanski are true, as many people -- including many of those who have awarded and lauded him over the years -- would seem to believe, then it is a sad commentary on the double standards of fame and fortune that an individual who allegedly turned his back on the basic decencies of civilized society has managed not only to evade lawful repercussions but has had apparently reputable institutions uphold him despite this.

Human nature may not be so forgiving, but human institutions have unfailingly demonstrated time and again that they are. So the question is begged: can the person be separated from the talent, and if so, should they be?

This isn't about a personality issue being associated with a revered talent -- Picasso was a well known misogynist according to many accounts, but it would have been just as strange to condemn him and his art as it would have been to condemn Wittgenstein's writings because he was rude.

What this is about is a criminal act that is cruel, inhumane and damaging to a child, because no matter what anyone says or said about the 13-year-old girl who was involved in this incident, she was a child and by definition an innocent victim of what allegedly was done to her by someone who was well into his adulthood.

This is also about evading justice.

Polanski may be a talented film director, but according to his 1978 arrest warrant and his own admission, he did have sex with a 13 year old child when he was in his 40's. Most people would call him a pedophile or a child molester, or both. We don't know if he ever repeated this offense, or if in fact this offense was a repeat of earlier such behavior, but what we do know is that this type of behavior is too often not an isolated incident in the lives of the individuals who engage in it.

What the Polish government is saying -- and what many people worldwide agree with -- is that perpetrators of this crime can no longer be trusted to make the right decision when it comes to their sexual urges.

There is one certain way to prevent recurrences of this type of assault and that is to remove the urge entirely.

Chemical castration disables the urge by suppressing the hormones that drive sexual urges. It is a life-long process of regular administration of the chemicals that suppress these urges and would no doubt carry with it the complications of ensuring that the chemicals are actually administered properly, the long-term costs of administering them, and so forth.

A more cost-effective and certain prevention is old-fashioned castration: the irreversible excision of an offender's testes or ovaries. While centuries of knowledge on the issue of castration (consider stories of the Mughal-era eunuchs who protected harems but had affectionate relationships with each other) would suggest that it does not entirely remove human sexual instincts, it certainly dramatically reduces the sexual urge that in the case of sexual offenders is apparently uncontrollable.

Many people argue that castration of any kind is cruel and unusual punishment, that it is unfair to someone who may never commit this crime again. But it seems likely that the victims, potential victims, and even the perpetrators themselves would be better off with such a solution in place under the law.

While some states in America agree with the Polish government -- California, for instance, also mandates chemical castration for a two-time sexual offender -- not all do. Do states not think it is important enough to warrant prevention of repeat sexual offenses or is it a more deep-rooted problem of forgiving men -- and the vast majority of convicted sexual offenders are men -- their sexual urges?

Thus, a third element is added to the issues of double standards for the famous and ineffective punishment of sexual offenders: that of the gender bias. It's not difficult to imagine how different Polanski's life and career might have been if he were in fact a 44 year old woman who had engaged in sexual relations with a 13 year old child.

Nobody is perfect, no doubt about it, but some imperfections seem more forgivable than others. What the Polish government is saying about the kind of behavior that allegedly took place between Polanski and a 13 year old girl is that, at the end of the day, there simply is no excuse for it, and not only that, but that it is a problem that must be prevented from recurring and that decision cannot be made by someone who has already crossed a line that most people have the physical and mental resources not to.

Changing people's attitudes about the rich and famous, or their ingrained gender biases, is a slow process, but that's where laws come in handy: some problems do have solutions.

Roman Polanski has admitted to a sexual crime against a child and spent three decades evading justice for it -- this is not admirable or laudable. This week, the Swiss Ministry of Justice has again brought attention to this fact. It's just a shame that it has taken 31 years and an extradition treaty for Polanski to head down the road toward responsibility and decency.

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