real life

At 13, Samantha was raped by a famous man. And the aftermath is what traumatised her the most.

When Samantha Geimer (née Gailey) was 13, director Roman Polanski picked her up in his car, drove her to the home of actor Jack Nicholson and photographed her for French Vogue.

It was here the teenager posed topless – a factor she later said made her feel uncomfortable – under the instruction of Polanski. He had organised the shoot with her mother, and dictated it was to be private and Geimer alone. It was March 10, 1977, and the teenager was scared, but she didn’t have the “self-confidence” to admit that fact to her mother.

“We did photos with me drinking champagne,” Geimer told the now-defunct Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 2003. “Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realised he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn’t quite know how to get myself out of there.”

After the photoshoot, Geimer said the then 43-year-old fed her champagne, drugged her and repeatedly sexually assaulted her. Polanski, now 83, has long denied drugging the child but admitted to having sex with her, knowing she was underage, before fleeing to France to avoid sentencing under United States law.

He has, since then, been in a self-imposed exile and launched many bids to get his assault case dropped. All have failed.

Earlier this year, the 54-year-old made her way to a Los Angeles court to try and get the case dismissed, arguing she had forgiven the director and wanted to move on without the cloud of the case over her head. Her attempt was turned down.

Samantha Geimer. Image: Getty.

"What he did, did not affect me greatly. What happened with the court and the media traumatised my whole family and changed our whole lives," Geimer told Good Morning Britain on Tuesday, arguing the ensuing court case and media fanfare had a more damaging impact on her state of mind than the assault itself.

"I was a teenager, I was sexually active, I was not as traumatised by the sex as everyone would like me to be, that's just who I am. I'm not aggrieved by the way my life has turned out."


Geimer's admissions that she has "forgiven" Polanski and has a deep-seated desire to move on with her life are jarring in a climate where we have a propensity to be offended on behalf of someone else, and assume all victims of trauma must follow a well trodden path to healing.

Compound this with her claims that a media frenzy - one we imposed - had more of an impact on her trauma and suddenly, we don't have a neat narrative with a victim and perpetrator. The blame, in fact, is everywhere.

So can we actually bestow victimhood on someone who has preemptively rejected the tag?

According to Carolyn Worth of the Centre Against Sexual Assault, the simple answer is no.

"No, you can't. That's one of the things I find difficult... I did not work for years [in this area] for everyone to be made into a victim.

"Some people see victims of assault and trauma and say 'they will never be okay'. That's rubbish. You don't want everyone to be a victim if they don't have to be."

Image: Getty.

While Worth says she has "a lot of empathy" for Geimer's "position", she contends our focus really should be on Polanski. After all, if he had done the time initially, the case wouldn't be ongoing, nor would Geimer feel the need to come out, so often, and speak about a crime perpetrated 40 years ago.

"But my issue is not about her, my issue was with him running. [The case] would have been long gone - given his talent - if he had just served his time."

Anecdotally, Worth says working with children who are victims of sexual assault gives insight into what gives a 'victim' closure. Often, it's not seeing the perpetrator sent to prison - particularly if it's a family member. Instead, it's getting them to stop; for them to understand the trauma they're inflicting and the damage that's been done.


She adds there are natural and overwhelming consequences of having your case and your trauma played out in the public eye.

"There's always a downside of being a high-profile victim, it's always going to be more difficult. It's harder, too, because they can almost always employ really good legal advice."

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For Grace Gedeon, a Sydney-based trauma counsellor, victims of trauma aren't always solely traumatised by the act that caused them pain.

"With sexual abuse trauma, a lot of people are pretty numb at the time of the abuse. The trauma is exacerbated with how it's handled. So, there's the trauma of the abuse and then there is the trauma of how the victim is treated after the abuse. They're two different categories."

She argues a media frenzy can "hijack" the victim's ability to experience and navigate their genuine feelings, because their feelings "become public property".

"It's particularly bad because the victim already feels like their mind and body has already been violated in the assault."

When considering Geimer's argument that her life has not been defined by the act, but instead the fuss around the assault, Gedeon says sometimes justice isn't always a pre-requisite to closure for victims of assault.

"We need to distinguish justice from trauma healing. When it becomes a social issue or a moral issue, justice is important - that's important to society. However, when you're talking about an individual's healing, sometimes justice helps and sometimes, just being honoured and being heard and being able and have their integrity restored to them is more important. Justice is not in and of itself healing. It can be a component of healing."

For many, it's an uncomfortable bow to draw: that justice and healing don't always overlap, and nor do they have to. But in the case of Samantha Geimer, who has lived as much trauma in the public eye as she did on the day of her assault, there's no need to place a badge of victimhood on someone who rejects the concept so viscerally.

Instead, we can put the focus on ourselves, and consider the impact we have on victims of trauma when they're thrust - so young, vulnerable and raw - into the eye of the public where their trauma is treated like fodder for public consumption.

After all, in Geimer's own words, she just wants a normal life, one that's not defined by depravity.

"I would like them to sentence him to time served, dismiss the case," she said. "Anything they can do to put an end to this before I have to explain it to my granddaughter.

"It’s been 40 years."