A big conversation got started last week when Mackenzie Phillips’ book was released and she made an appearance on Oprah. Opinions are flying around television, radio, and the Internet, and even some unfortunate jokes have been made about what happened to her. And I mean what happened to her.

I know that many people, apparently Oprah included, consider what happened to Mackenzie following the rape by her father to have been consensual because many of the acts occurred after she was legally an adult. And, under the law, we properly hold adults legally accountable for their acts. Even Mackenzie believes that because she was an adult she consented, and it is courageous of her to publicly accept her part in what happened.

But legal ability to consent is not the same as psychological ability. (I’m not offering a diminished capacity defense here, but Mackenzie isn’t being adjudicated in a court of law for a crime.) Mackenzie and her father were not equals. Her father had power over her for many reasons, not the least of which was due to her drug addiction (and it was John Phillips who taught his then-child how to put a needle into her veins). Let’s not gloss over that he began the abusive relationship by raping her and then telling her they made love. Like many abusers, he cultivated a belief in his victim that her submission was consent, gaining her psychological cooperation in order to maintain his abusive power.

John Phillips failed utterly in the most important role he was blessed with in this life, being a parent. He was the very person who above all others should have been protecting his daughter from sexual abuse, from drugs, and even from harming herself. Instead, he brought harm to her, the worst kind. Phillips had been grooming and controlling Mackenzie long before he forced his penis into his daughter’s vagina, and after he did that he managed to convince his damaged and drug-addled child that she chose to be his lover. Mackenzie was the victim. She is the survivor.

And this is the stuff of jokes? I read someone’s opinion yesterday that all dark humor has a group that will be injured. I understand that, but I’d like to consider that statement further. Sure, we hear comedians joke about celebrities, reality show participants, ethnic groups, someone who has a big mole, or blondes. And, sure, that person or group is poked and could be hurt. Having said that, a successful comedian knows his or her audience. I’m not saying that poking at others is okay, but I understand that it happens. I’m the first person to poke fun at myself, or things about me that I perceive to be a shared human condition. And I’ve taken a joke too far, too. It happens. None of us is perfect. But joking about certain subjects goes beyond dark humor, and even beyond poor taste. Incest falls into that category, and, in particular, jokes about the survivor having choice or enjoying incest ought to be no-man’s land. Would it be funny to joke about the holocaust, murder, slavery, abortion, or 9/11? Incest is never funny either.

Are you dismissing this just a little bit because you’re thinking that I’m an overly sensitive survivor, too hurt to see the humor? Yes, I am a survivor of incest, and sensitive, too. This is precisely why I’m speaking up, and with some authority on the matter. Bless you if you don’t know this first hand, but survivors of incest are statistically a very large group. Survivors are also some of the most resilient and accommodating folks on the planet, sometimes too much so. And they’re some of the funniest, too, as humor is a very powerful coping mechanism. However, joking about incest sends a harmful message to survivors, and encourages everyone else to be glib about it.

Another conversation was started in the media this week about the whole Roman Polanski thing. Yesterday, Whoopi Goldberg said on The View that “It wasn’t a rape-rape.” Having intercourse with an unconscious 13-year-old girl isn’t rape? No, Whoopi, it wasn’t rape. It was child rape. So Hollywood will gather ’round to defend this guy because what? It is more acceptable to have sex with a drugged minor than it is to do it by physical force? Why does Roman Polanski deserve a pass? Is it because the perpetrator is a talented artist and/or an old man now? Because that old man did not pay for his crime under the system of justice in which he committed the acts. Is it because the survivor has forgiven him? Forgiveness by a victim has nothing to do with absolving the perpetrator of responsibility.

These conversations in the media raise a big question in my mind. Is our society more interested in honoring and protecting persons of wealth and fame than our children? It sure seems like it to me.


Swiss filmmaker Otto Weisser called the rape and sodomy of the 13-year-old child in the Polanski case “a little mistake.”

Polanski gave an interview to the novelist Martin Amis in 1979 (the year after Polanski fled this jurisdiction) that reportedly appeared in the Condé Nast U.K. publication Tatler, in which Polanski said:

“If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… f—ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”

So, it seems that this so-called “little mistake” was not only the intentional rape and sodomy of a child, but Polanski said he believes that everyone wants to do that to young girls. Um, no, Polanski, just so we’re clear, only very sick bastards want to “f— young girls.”

This is who Hollywood embraces?

For thirty-two years the victim in this case* has been victimized again and again as the media diminishes the absolute horror that she experienced, and throws support behind the perpetrator. It is completely understandable that she just wanted (and still wants) the case to go away. It’s time for Polanski to go away, where he should have gone thirty-two years ago.]

*Although she’s been identified in the media, for the sake of the privacy she’s said she wants, I will not identify her by name here.

61 comments on “John Phillips & Roman Polanski: Two Big Conversations and One Big Question”

  1. I’m sad that people would so willingly and unabashedly support a man who rape a 13-year-old child. 13 8th grade. Think of that.

    I am also sad that people would make light of a predator who spent years grooming his own daughter so that he could victimize her for a decade, and have her believe that it was her own doing.

    There’s just no joke that can make that funny to me.

    Good post, my wife. You’ve never been better.

  2. Cheri, thank you for this post. I was just watching Hollywood “rally around” Roman Polanski. It’s disgusting.

    Mackenzie Phillips’ story makes me sick for her and unbelievably sad that her siblings are unhappy with her coming out. If telling the story helps her at all, she’s more than entitled to tell it.

  3. Having been a raped 13-year-old, I can honestly say that it was the most UN-frigging-funny thing that ever happened to me. It is not a joke. There is no circumstance that makes that okay. None. I agree with you, Cheri. Mackenzie Phillips COULD NOT feasibly consent to the things that her father did to her. Nor could a drugged 13-year-old being anything other than rape raped by a man like Roman Polanski, or any other adult for that matter.

    It makes me sick and sad to think that people would turn a blind eye to that kind of crime.

    When I think of the kids out there today facing this kind of thing in their own lives, and having to hear statements like the one made by Whoopi, I cringe. Those kids should be hearing outrage in the media, not support for an evil perpetrator. They need to know that WE know they are NOT at fault, and that we will help to protect them.

  4. First, re: John Phillips, I don’t know enough to give a coherent comment. Generally, this does not stop me, but in this instance, I’m with you – it’s never, ever funny. Ever.

    As to Roman Polanski, I don’t get why this is even an issue. So effing WHAT if it’s “traditional” to let directors do film festivals without interference? It’s also *traditional to, oh, I dunno, NOT DRUG AND RAPE 13 year old girls then run from the law for 30 years.

    And Hollywood getting behind this guy makes me ill. What are these people thinking? ARE they thinking? How can a human being legitimately believe Mr. Polanski has been wronged here? I honest to goodness do not understand.

  5. Very well put Cheri. Anyone who reads this who has or has had a 13 year old daughter need only ask themselves if it would be funny or benign or not a crime if Polanski had drugged, raped and sodomized their child. Or if a dad, try to imagine (don’t really) doing such things to your own young child or adult child.

    This has no humour.

    There are legal, moral, ethical and basic human rights crimes all occuring here.

    I’m not sure it’s celebrity that is allowing some to excuse – it’s also wealth and the old ‘blame the victim’ mentality.

    THanks Cheri.

  6. The problem is not just that society has a tendency to blame the victim in these cases it’s that there are so many women who have suffered incest and rape who just don’t want to think about it. Every news story brings back memories. Every detailed account can trigger a visceral response. The mind tries to block out the pain but the body will never forget. Unfortunately, those very women, who should understand, who should rise up and defend their sisters, are the ones most likely to turn away, to harden their hearts, to imply that it wasn’t that bad and that the victim will get over it. It’s a defense, a base response in a effort to rapidly deflect the story before it sinks in and really hurts.

  7. Not rape rape? In the 30-year-old transcript of the grand jury testimony, the questioner asked the girl if she fought off Polanski’s advances. She said “a little.” The questioner asked why she did not fight back more, and the girl replied that she was frightened. That is rape rape. AND child rape. And no amount of talent excuses rape.

  8. All of your words & your commenters’ support give me a faith in humanity that has been waning these past days.

    I am disgusted by those who dare to take the side of such predators; there is nothing to absolve them.

  9. Thank you and can I hug you? This has all made my fingers itch to end my self-inflicted blogging hiatus Cheri, truly, thank you for taking the time to write about this, to point out the absolute horror of the mindset our society continues to embrace, which helps perpetrators continue to abuse. EVERYTHING you’ve chronicled here is so spot-on that my blabbering is simply a really long-winded way to again say THANK YOU!

  10. I’d be the first person to make a joke, if there were a joke to be made. Believe me, there are no suitable jokes for these situations. They make me sick.

    What sort of monster would rape a 13-year-old girl? That’s just sick. And what sort of monster would do the same to his own daughter?

    I do feel bad for the now-grown woman who was the 13-year-old raped child. She’s been asking authorities to just drop the whole thing, so she wouldn’t be made to relive it yet again. I can’t blame her. She just wants to move on.

  11. It makes my stomach churn. For MY daughter, for your daughters. For all the little girls in this world that don’t even know that they have to worry about something like that happening to them. Oh the punishments HE should get! I can think of so many…

  12. I am not familiar with the Mackenzie Philips story except for hearing snippets. It is inexcusable for incest to occur whether between parent/child or child/child or close relative/child.

    As for Roman Polanski, the extradiction process has been awaiting him for years. He needs accountability for his actions.

    That said, having acted as defence counsel on countless sexual assault charges, it was always my least favorite offence to defend. I always thought it easier to deal with murder as a defence counsel than sexual assault (rape) because at least the victim was dead. I can only imagine that, as a victim, there is nothing more humiliating than having to be subject to direct and cross-examinations on a sexual assault (or worse repeated sexual assaults).

    The only solace is that the general prison population detests sexual offenders and that a jail sentence as a sexual offender can be harsh.


    I’ve been sick to my stomach all week over both of these stories and the press and public’s reactions to them both.

    As an incest survivor, I can also attest that there is not one thing funny about it. The pain perpetrated on both Mackenzie and the 13 year old girl is unimaginable and unthinkable and unbearable! That anyone would make light of sexual abuse is beyond my comprehension! It is also beyond by ability to process how the public could ever support Polanski! And, you are spot on about Mackenzie. She did not consent. Could not have consented to such a thing, ever no matter what her chronological age was at the time.

    You, Cheri, are the voice of reason here. I admire and respect your ability to address this issue head on with such candor and wisdom.

    Did I mention that I LOVE YOU!

  14. Well said!

    As for the media? Where to begin. They are not out there for anything but ratings. Whatever is going to get the most viewers is what’s going to get said or shown. These are just more examples of that.

  15. Whoopi really said that? How disappointing. I have on purpose not followed either of the 2 issues on TV. But I read a great article on Salon.com, which pointed out several things:

    1) Polanski’s victim was drugged by him.

    2) Polanski’s victim said No when he kissed her, when he put his penis in her vagina, when he performed cunnilingus on her, and when he put his penis in her anus.

    3) Polanski admitted he did all this in his plea.

    OK — it is UNCONTESTED by all parties that he raped a child. Even Polanski admits he raped a child.

    People can quibble about the severity of the sentence for him at this point in time – and I am actually open to that kind of discussion – but it is uncontested that Polanski RAPED A CHILD.

  16. Oh, and I can’t even begin to think about the Phillips story. How awful. How horrible. I hope that she has been able to heal.

  17. g: Whoopi really said that. And you know what Swiss filmmaker Otto Weisser called the rape and sodomy of that child? A “little mistake.”

    For the last thirty-two years the victim in this case has had to hear the media diminish the absolute horror that she experienced, and all the while throw support behind the perpetrator. Of course she just wanted (and still wants) the case to go away.

    I read that Polanski gave an interview to the novelist Martin Amis in 1979 (the year after Polanski fled this jurisdiction) that reportedly appeared in the Condé Nast U.K. publication Tatler, in which Polanski said:

    “If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… f—ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”

    Um. No, Roman. You’d like to believe that your desire for young girls is normal. It isn’t. Only very sick men want to “f— young girls.”

    This is who Hollywood embraces?

  18. There is no punishment strong enough to make up for those wrongs. There simply just ISN’T. And as a mother of a 13yo (boy, but 13 is 13) I am sick to my stomach.

    AMEN, Cheri.

  19. I’m so glad you addressed this, Cheri. The Polanski story doesn’t make sense to a logical mind. It’s sick. He’s a pedaphile.


    I cannot even imagine.

    Standing ovation for you, Cheri. xx

  20. Those quotes from Polanski are horrid. He really believes what he’s saying, I’ll bet. I didn’t mean to imply that charges should be dropped because the victim didn’t want to have to relive the horror. I just wanted to say what a shame that justice wasn’t carried out in the first place so that she would be spared going through all this media attention again.

  21. I have been angered beyond measure at the public outpouring of support for Polanski. As a victim of sexual abuse, I understand the victim’s desire that this all go away. But it should not. I have been waiting for yeras for Polanski to get his. As for Mackenize Phillips, it makes more sense to me why she has struggled so long with sobriety and my heart breaks for her.

    There is NO EXCUSE for the mistreatment of children.

  22. I am so so so with you on every single point you made.

    The public “support” for the abuser/rapist and not for the victim makes me absolutely sick to my stomach.

    And also…on a tangent…I am beyond pissed at the people who say Mackenzie Phillips is “picking” on her dad when he isn’t alive to defend himself. So the hell what? It happened. She should say so, whether he is alive or dead.

    And the whole not a rape-rape thing was ignorant and offensive.


  23. Polanski is EVIL beyond measure, and there’s no excuse for anyone to minimize what he did to that child. And for him to do so by making statements that imply he only did what everyone else wants to do just further illustrates that he is not sorry and that he would probably do it again (if he hasn’t already done so).

    I love you for doing this post – and for lots of other reasons, too.

  24. BOTH of these situations are so disgusting and my heart breaks for their victims. I’m glad you posted this. There is no question of their criminal behavior, I cannot imagine under what standard of values one ignores and excuses their actions.

  25. Polanski is most definitely EVIL and a very dangerous man. Those who support him are dangerous as well, and their behavior is unconscionable, signing petitions to protect a child rapist. WTH?

    It makes me physically ill and my chest hurts thinking about the unbelievable pain and trauma he caused a 13 year old girl. And now the media (and he) is re-traumatizing her as an adult. It’s tragic and criminal.

    He must be held accountable for his crime.

  26. This is a brilliant post. Thank you for putting your thoughts together so well here.

    Suggesting that Polanski should be excused and pointing to his body of work since the rape is insulting to us all. It’s in line with an article I read after Ted Kennedy’s death suggesting the incident Chapaquitic should be forgotten because of his significant legislative work since then.

  27. You are, once again, without a doubt, the most amazing, gifted, honest and talented writer. You leave no doubt that these things are atrocities with no room for humor.

    Way to go.

    And big hugs for sharing your personal tragedies and triumphs. You are an amazingly strong person.

  28. I haven’t read all the comments, but this is a brilliant and dead-on post.

    What really made me roll my eyes this week? Woody Allen signing the letter in his defense. Great character witness there.

    I recently read “Helter Skelter” about the Manson murders, and I can’t help but think there is a huge amount of sympathy in Hollywood for what Polanski went through when his wife Sharon was murdered. It’s no excuse though.

  29. There’s a club for us survivors? Isn’t the internet a wonderful thing? One thing I learned, when my own case went to court, was survivors will tend to be so accommodating and will try to let the perp off, legally, because they don’t want to hurt anyone. They don’t want to cause “trouble”. They believe, even after therapy and growing up, that they were the cause and it is their job to make it ok with everyone, including the one who made them hurt. Polanski should not get off easy because his victim says it’s ok. Or because he’s old. Or because his wife and child were brutally murdered. Or because he has an Oscar. Or any other BS anyone can come up with to excuse what he did to that child.

  30. It’s so hard to know what to believe…or not. Both stories are sad and horrifying. Trying to decide whether or not the girl is lying seems to distract from the fact that both men were the instigators and should be held primarily responsible.

  31. I tried. I tried so hard to overlook the comment from Apathy Lounge. I failed.

    Apathy Lounge: I have to ask. Do you mean that other people are wasting their time trying to figure out whether the girl(s), (Mackenzie and the 13-yr-old raped by Roman Polanski), are lying, or that you aren’t sure?

    ‘Cause Roman Polanski admitted his crime and that is not in dispute. And Mackenzie? Gains nothing by telling about what her father did to her, except for personal freedom from the binds it has placed on her all these years. She could’ve written a book with or without that part of the story. She’s been through an awful lot, so there’d have been a story to tell either way, no? It’s incredibly unlikely that Mackenzie Phillips is lying, and completely undisputed that Roman Polanski’s victim is telling the truth.

    So… I’m guessing you mean other people and I’m just going to throw it out there that those other people are complete morons.

  32. Apathy Lounge: Hmmmm! Really? You have to question whether or not the victims are lying? Go read the grand jury transcript of the 13 year old girl’s testimony. Bear witness to her horrific experience at the hands of Roman Polanski! Read every word and sit with the nightmare that NO child or person of any age should have to endure. And Polanski admitted to his crime and got a deal. THEN. THEN, he fled the country so he would not have to pay the price for what he’d done.

    So, now we have people who are supporting him and re-traumatizing this woman.

    And as for MP, she isn’t lying, either! No one would put themselves through the scrutiny she’s been through in recent weeks for a lie! Come on!

    We need not waste a moment of our time considering whether these victims (now survivors) lied. We need to spend our time SUPPORTING THEM and calling into ACCOUNT the perpetrators who committed these crimes.

  33. The victim in the Polanski case testified that she was drugged, given alcohol, raped, sodomized (because he told her he didn’t want her to get pregnant), and that he performed what she called “cuddliness” (her 13-year-old mispronunciation of cunnilingus) on her. Sparing himself a trial, when Polanski entered his plea on the lesser offense, he had to admit to those crimes as a factual basis for the plea. The day before his sentencing he fled, and has lived a life of privilege in France.

    The record is pretty clear in the Polanski case. Same is true of the Phillips case. Not only does Mackenzie have no motivation whatsoever to tell this story other than what she says motivates her, but her family (excepting her stepmother, Phillips’ wife) and the people who were close to the family at that time corroborate her.

    I think it is easier to believe that one loved one is lying or exaggerating, rather than believe that the other loved one is a sick and depraved monster. The same seems to be true of someone who our society holds in higher esteem (because of talent or fame or wealth) versus a child to whom ulterior motives can be more easily ascribed (because how can a child defend herself from being called a “Lolita” or that she/her parents are after a financial settlement).

  34. I don’t understand why people support Polanski. So what if it happened long ago? Sick idiot.

    And poor MacKenzie…what a horrible life! Where the hell was her Mom in all this?

  35. Thank you for saying so eloquently what I would have liked to have said.

    I’m sorry you were forced to endure such a history. I know all too well how it always stays with you, regardless of counseling and support.

    I hope that many MANY people read this post and gain a better understanding of the crimes that were committed and why they are so horrific, why we shouldn’t just turn a blind eye. It’s unconscionable to defend those who committed the crimes because of their fame or fortune.

    Thank you for speaking up. Thank you.

  36. I have thought for YEARS that we as a society are more interested in protecting persons of wealth and fame than our children. Look at all the athletes and actors that have admitted or been caught using serious illegal drugs – yet they continue to play and act and get paid MILLIONS. Average Joe gets fired and loses his family and livelihood over such an offense. Or what about carrying concealed weapons Mr. Jerry Jones? Or what about murdering your ex-wife and her husband Mr. O.J.? Not having the actor around for the next movie or the athlete around for the playoff seems to be WAY more important to our warped society than to hold the person accountable – or at least having them run through the same course of the legal process as the rest of us.


  37. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    The details in the Polanski case don’t surprise me, nor do his comments.

    But Whoopi? I’m really disappointed in her.

    I’m pretty sure Mackenzie Phillips suffers every time she gives an interview about her “relationship” with her father. What a bastard.

  38. Would these sympathizers be saying the same thing if Polanski was a 76 year old priest whose victim was a 13 year old boy? Would it be “a little sex” then?

    And I do agree with you. Mackenzie might have been of legal age to consent, but she was not emotionally or physically (drugs) able to give full consent.

    When I first heard her allegations, I thought to myself that in all of my years of studying and working with victims, I’ve not encountered claims of assault starting at such a late age. So I do understand the difficulty many people have in accepting her claims as legitimate.

    It also seems to me, if she were making all of this up, she would have made it easier on the doubters by claiming an earlier age of onset.

    I’m sorry her life was so wrecked, that her assailant was such a pathetic father. I’m glad she was brave enough to write about it. There are many victims who appreciate their story being validated.

  39. Chris Smith said.
    If someone ever did that to my daughter I would kill them, I would not shoot them or stab them, I would beat them to death with my bare hands.
    If I ever did such a thing (I can’t even type it) to my daughter (or anybody’s) the same should happen to me.
    Its not complicated. Its just right and wrong. Some of us know the difference.
    Love you Cheri

Lurkers are welcome. Commenters are welcomer.