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June 23, 2008

We Hate Pedophiles! (Unless They’re Famous, Or They Abuse Girls)


Americans hate child molesters. Right?


We mock them when they’re ensnared by Chris Hanson on To Catch a Predator. We watch Bill O’Reilly and Nancy Grace scream with outrage when they’re let out of jail and we howl with (understandable) anger about pedophile priests. In a culture in which just about any crime, short of murder, can be forgiven if enough time passes, child molestation appears to be one of the few crimes that most people just plain can’t let slide.


So why is R. Kelly still a huge star? And why do so many in America clamor for the return of Roman Polanski?


Two events in recent weeks – HBO’s airing of a documentary about Oscar-winning filmmaker Roman Polanski and the acquittal of R&B superstar R. Kelly on child pornography charges – have gotten me thinking about something I first noticed a few years ago. A double standard, or rather two of them.


This most unforgivable of crimes can be forgiven much more easily if the person committing it is 1) a celebrity, and 2) accused of molesting underage girls, and not boys.


Our culture seems to have a sharp, night-and-day double standard when it comes to accusations of pedophilia, pederasty and other sexual abuse of children and underage teenagers. If the male defendant is accused of victimizing a boy, that is considered an unpardonable, disgusting crime that makes that person an unemployable pariah. But a similar crime against a girl is considered quite a bit more forgivable. Look, for instance, at the difference in the public reactions to Kelly and Michael Jackson.


Both Polanski and Kelly have records in regard to their taste for young girls that go back, literally, decades.


Polanski, as the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired shows, was convicted in 1977 of having sex with, and providing drugs for, a then-13-year-old girl. After a circus of a trial in which it appeared a judge was going to give him a stiff sentence, Polanski fled the country for France, and has not returned in the 30 years since.


Polanski resumed his career, even winning an Academy Award for Best Director a few years ago, and is thought by many, in Hollywood and out of it, to have been railroaded by the justice system. He garners some sympathy from many for several mitigating factors – his past as a Holocaust survivor and the husband of Manson Family victim Sharon Tate; his status as director of such classics as Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby; and the belief by the victim that it’s time to forgive and forget.


Kelly, Slate reported last week, has paid at least four settlements to underage girls who have accused him of sexual misconduct, and a videotape of a man looking very much like Kelly having sex with a young girl was widely disseminated years ago, and became such a part of the culture that Dave Chappelle parodied it.


Yes, after a trial delayed more than five years, Kelly was acquitted, but all evidence in the public record – including his 1990s marriage to then-15-year-old R&B singer Aaliyah – suggests his proclivities in this matter are in little doubt.


But despite all that, the numerous charges, allegations, videotapes and trials do not appear to have negative impacted Kelly’s career one iota.


The other major pop star accused of child molestation in recent years? That would be Michael Jackson, who is almost universally seen as a creepy, scary wacko whose career has been ruined by the accusations against him – even though he, too, was acquitted in both of his molestation trials.


Polanski is still a movie director who won an Academy Award recently. R. Kelly has sold millions upon millions of albums, and it’s likely his next release will open at number one.


I just fail to understand why those who victimize children in such a way are not shunned across the board, whether they’re pop superstars or anonymous Chris Hanson-snared predators, or victimizers of boys or girls.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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