On March 10, 1977, director Roman Polanski raped Samantha Geimer, who was 13 at the time, during a photo shoot in Los Angeles. The agonizing legal dispute that followed lasted a year and ended with the prominent director fleeing the United States.
Thirty-two years later, Polanski was taken into custody in Switzerland and placed under house arrest. A Swiss court was supposed to rule on his extradition, which triggered yet another bitter controversy over the case. Geimer, now 50, has described her version of the events in a book to be published next week ("The Girl. A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski." Orell Füssli Publishing House; €19.90).
SPIEGEL interviewed Geimer in Las Vegas, where she works for a real estate company, although she lives in Hawaii with her husband and three sons. She never saw Polanski, now 80, again.
SPIEGEL: Mrs. Geimer, you write in your book that you weren't pleased when Roman Polanski was finally arrested in 2009.
Geimer: No. Why would I want him to go to prison?
SPIEGEL: Because what he did to you in 1977 made your life miserable, as you write in your book.
Geimer: It wasn't Roman who made my life miserable. It was the people who treated him unfairly at the time and now had him arrested in Switzerland. And -- nothing against you -- the press made my life miserable. Roman didn't intend for any of that. When he was arrested again four years ago, I knew it meant trouble. Now the press was after me again. That's why I wasn't happy.
SPIEGEL: If Polanski had stopped himself from having sex with the 13-year-old girl you were on that evening in March 1977, none of this would have happened.
Geimer: That's very true. But Roman Polanski already pleaded guilty to the crime in court, and he even went to prison for it in 1977. I don't know what else he could have done.
SPIEGEL: You think the 42 days he spent in prison at the time were enough?
Geimer: I never asked that he spend even a single day in prison. We had a deal with the judge to which all sides had agreed, and it called for probation. The judge didn't stick to the deal, and because he was worried about his reputation, he ordered an additional 90 days in prison. There was no reason for that. Roman was supposed to receive a psychological assessment there.
SPIEGEL: Polanski wasn't supposed to begin his prison sentence until he had finished shooting a film, but when a photo turned up of him together with young women at the Munich Oktoberfest, the judge felt duped and ordered him to return to the United States immediately to begin his sentence.
Geimer: But the psychologists at Chino State Prison found no pedophilic tendencies in Roman, and so he was released after 42 days. It was humiliating for the judge, who wanted to send Roman back to prison, this time for an indefinite period of time. It could have been five days or five years.
SPIEGEL: That's possible?
Geimer: It was certainly possible at the time. Roman must have had the impression that the judge could no longer be trusted, which is why he fled. To be honest, I can understand that.
SPIEGEL: When listening to you, and after reading your book, it's easy to get the impression that you don't think that what Polanski did to you was all that bad.
Geimer: At any rate, I was never as devastated and traumatized as people claimed I was. What I still don't understand is that if everyone felt that what Roman did was so terrible, why do they still want to see me as a deeply traumatized victim? Oh, Polanski did this to you -- but why, then, aren't you in worse shape?
SPIEGEL: We don't understand that.
Geimer: I'm also a feminist. I understand the motives of the women who attacked me publicly. But they wanted me to feel like a victim, because only a deeply hurt victim could truly benefit them and their cause. But I wasn't one. To this day, I don't feel that I was a victim of Roman, but rather a victim of the public, the courts and the media. That explains this book and this interview.
SPIEGEL: How did it come about that Roman Polanski wanted to photograph you in 1977?
Geimer: My older sister's boyfriend knew him from Hollywood circles. That was how he met my mother at a party. Roman told her that he was looking for young girls to photograph for the French edition of Vogue. My sister's boyfriend suggested me, which is how Roman came to our house. He brought along the photos he had taken of Nastassja Kinski for Vogue.
SPIEGEL: But then it was all clear. They were erotic photos of a 15-year-old girl.
Geimer: I thought they were beautiful. I wanted to be an actress. Apparently it all worked out pretty well for Nastassja.
SPIEGEL: Had you already heard about Polanski before then?
Geimer: I knew that he had directed the film "Chinatown." I had seen it in the theater, but I didn't like it. Too dark. But I knew that Roman Polanski was important.
SPIEGEL: Did you know about the tragedies in his life? About his parents, who were in concentration camps? About his mother, who died in Auschwitz? About the eight-year-old boy who fled on his own? About Sharon Tate, who was carrying his unborn child when she was brutally murdered by the Charles Manson gang?
Geimer: Nothing. I didn't find about all that until later. It's all so gruesome.
SPIEGEL: You met him eight years after the murder of Sharon Tate. He wanted to take test shots of you. Your mother had agreed to that?
Geimer: Yes. But when she wanted to come along, Roman said it wasn't such a good idea. The two of us walked up the street behind our house, and he started taking pictures. At some point he asked me to change my top. I wasn't wearing a bra, because I didn't need one yet, and I turned away from him to change. The funny thing was that he kept taking pictures. And then he asked me to turn around.
SPIEGEL: Didn't that seem strange to you?
Geimer: It was 1977. The world was different then. I grew up at a time when 13-year-old Jodie Foster played a prostitute in "Taxi Driver." Soon afterwards, Brooke Shields was in "Pretty Baby," playing a 12-year-old prostitute. The sexualization of girls my age was mainstream. It was everywhere. That's why it didn't seem very odd. I know how strange that sounds today.
SPIEGEL: Did you tell your mother about the topless pictures afterwards?
Geimer: No. Somehow I knew that I shouldn't have done that. But, anyway I didn't expect that Roman would be photographing me again. He didn't seem all that taken with me.
SPIEGEL: But he came back.
Geimer: Two or three weeks later. I wasn't crazy about it, because I knew that it wasn't right the first time. On the other hand, I still wanted to be in Vogue. We picked out some clothes, and he said that we would go to a friend's house and take some real pictures there.
SPIEGEL: And your mother wasn't concerned?
Geimer: No. He was this powerful, famous director, someone who also had a reputation to lose.
SPIEGEL: He also had a reputation as a womanizer, just like Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro. There were rumors at the time that Polanski had an affair with Nastassja Kinski.
Geimer: We know that today. I didn't know it back then. At any rate, Roman drove with me in his Mercedes, first to Jacqueline Bisset's and then to Jack Nicholson's house.
SPIEGEL: Did you know Nicholson?
Geimer: I knew that he had been in "Chinatown." But as far as I was concerned, they were just a bunch of boring adults. Nicholson wasn't home either. Polanski asked me if I wanted some champagne.
SPIEGEL: Had you ever drunk alcohol before?
Geimer: Maybe a glass on New Year's Eve. But I had no sense of how much to drink. Later, Polanski offered me a Quaalude pill. He asked me if I knew what it was. I didn't want to seem like a stupid kid, so I said: "Sure." And I did know. Quaalude was the drug of choice in Los Angeles in 1977. It was part of the culture. Quaalude pills were depicted on T-shirts and were in the lyrics of pop songs.
SPIEGEL: It's actually a sleeping pill.
Geimer: Yes. But when it's combined with alcohol, it produces a sleepy, relaxed high.
SPIEGEL: When did the photo shoot start feeling strange?
Geimer: Everything was fine while he was taking pictures. He did photograph me topless again, but he didn't flirt with me. It was business. For the last photos, he asked me to get into the jacuzzi. Once I was in the hot water, the alcohol and the Quaalude kicked in. I felt light and dizzy. I also felt a little panicky. At some point, Polanski said that the light wasn't good for taking pictures anymore, and that he was getting into the jacuzzi, too. That was when I knew it wasn't good. I told him I had asthma and jumped out of the water.
'It Horrifies Everyone'
SPIEGEL: Did Polanski believe you?
Geimer: Yes. The only problem was that now he wanted me to lie down and relax. He took me into a dark room, and then I knew: "Okay, the guy wants to have sex with you." I was surprised, because he didn't really seem to like me much. But I didn't know how to stop him. I had told him that I didn't want to go into that room. When he touched me, I said no. But when "no" didn't work, I didn't know what to do anymore. "Let him do it," I thought, "and then I'll go home." I knew what sex was. I had a boyfriend, and yes, we had had sex. At the time, I thought I was an adult.
SPIEGEL: Pretty early.
Geimer: I didn't think so. I definitely wasn't the only one at the time. Roman was constantly asking me whether I liked it. I didn't reply. He was the movie director, so he could write his own dialogue. He asked me when I had had my last period. But I was too confused and too high to remember. Then he asked me: "Would you want me to go through your back?" I had no idea what he was talking about, but to be on the safe side, I said "no." When it did happen, I thought to myself: "Wait a minute, was that my butt?"
SPIEGEL: It sounds horrible. It's hard to listen to.
Geimer: It horrifies everyone. At the time, it wasn't clear to me that what was called sodomy was such a big deal. It wasn't as bad as everyone thought. It didn't hurt. I was high. All I cared about was that he would get it over with quickly so I could go home. I know that that too sounds odd today.
SPIEGEL: It sounds succinct.
Geimer: I didn't feel good just after that. But I know people who have had worse things done to them.
SPIEGEL: There are people whose lives are destroyed after an experience like that.
Geimer: I wasn't like that. I wasn't raised with that strange sense of shame. Sex wasn't evil. I knew what sex was. No one had ever drummed it into my head that sex was dirty or shameful. Besides, I wasn't afraid for my life. I wasn't afraid that he would hurt me.
SPIEGEL: Not even emotionally?
Geimer: I don't think I had time for that. When it was over, it took less than an hour before "Oh, I can't believe what just happened" turned into a whole world of problems.
SPIEGEL: Actually, you didn't even want to tell your parents about what had happened.
Geimer: Oh no! But I had to talk to someone about it, so I called my ex-boyfriend Steve, who was a few years older than me. My sister overheard me and told my mother. And then all hell broke loose: the police, the hospital, the district attorney's office, Polanski being arrested, the paparazzi, telephones that wouldn't stop ringing. There was no time to reflect.
SPIEGEL: Did you wish that they hadn't called the police?
Geimer: I thought so at the time and repeatedly over the years. But what else should my mother have done? She couldn't simply let it go. Did we know what we were in for? No. Maybe it would be more obvious nowadays. If it had been my daughter, I would also have called the police.
SPIEGEL: Does your mother share any of the blame?
Geimer: No. But she blames herself because she let me go. We were all naïve. We all made mistakes.
SPIEGEL: Would you call it rape?
Geimer: I was 13. Under the law, it was rape.
SPIEGEL: And morally?
Geimer: I didn't want it. I tried to say no. That makes it rape. Did I think it was rape at the time? No. I thought rape meant physical violence or kidnapping. Then I got home and everyone was shouting: "You're 13. It's rape!" I was really surprised.
SPIEGEL: After he had dropped you off at home, Polanski went to his friend Robert De Niro's house. Apparently he didn't feel guilty at all.
Geimer: Polanski didn't think he had done anything wrong. He hadn't intended to hurt me. He wanted me to enjoy it. I was stunned when I heard the next day that Polanski had been arrested. And then Anjelica Huston was also arrested. She was Nicholson's girlfriend at the time and had walked in on us during the sex in Nicholson's house. When the police searched Nicholson's house for evidence, they found cocaine in Huston's purse. So there I was: Polanski was arrested, Huston was arrested and Nicholson certainly wasn't happy that all of this had happened in his house. Great start to my acting career. I knew that it wasn't my fault. But I felt bad.
SPIEGEL: Isn't it odd that Polanski, but you too, apparently, didn't think having sex with a 13-year-old was such a big deal?
Geimer: Today it's hard to imagine what the mood was like in the late '70's, especially in Hollywood. Elvis Presley had married Priscilla in the '60's. She was 14 when Elvis met her. Woody Allen's "Manhattan" was an homage to a middle-aged man in love with a teenager. I saw a photo of Don Johnson with his later wife Melanie Griffith sitting on his lap. She was 14 when they met. The girl who becomes a woman was no taboo. The term child abuse didn't exist. Or at least no one talked about it.
SPIEGEL: Do you accept that as justification?
Geimer: There is no justification. Roman should have known better. But you have to recognize that people behaved somewhat differently at the time when it came to sexual matters. Roman believed, as he said later on, that his actions had been based on warmth and affection. And you know what? I believe him. Condemning it from today's perspective is ignoring the historical context. Nevertheless, it was shitty of him to do it, no matter what he thought at the time, and no matter how he feels today.
SPIEGEL: We are experiencing a similar debate in Germany at the moment. Members of the Green Party, a liberal, leftist environmental party, stand accused of having supported and downplayed sexuality with children in the 1980s, for ideological or pedagogical reasons, but apparently without malicious intentions.
Geimer: Anyone who was somewhere between 13 and 45 in the '70's knows that both Roman and your Greens in Germany probably felt exactly that way. There was no calculation or malicious intent involved. Erotic experiences were seen as beneficial. People also believed that emotional growth was fostered by a more expanded -- or early - sexuality. And it applied to both sides, to those with power, like Roman, and to the relatively powerless, like me. Roman didn't see me as a victim.
SPIEGEL: So sexual morality was better in the '70's, even though it may have contributed to what happened to you with Polanski?
Geimer: I thought it was better at the time. Maybe it was just because that was how I grew up. I think it's wrong to establish rules about when sex is okay for an individual and when it isn't. I want to decide that for myself.
SPIEGEL: But in your case, 43-year-old Polanski made the decision.
Geimer: He decided for me, because he thought it was right. And I would rather relive the evening with Polanski than the court hearing. It was humiliating. Those questions. That's where I was the victim.
SPIEGEL: After that you went through 10 pretty wild years. You did drugs, drank a lot, and had various relationships. Was it a consequence of the Polanski incident?
Geimer: My mother and my sister would tell you that I was never the same person after that. I was terrible. I didn't talk to anyone anymore. I didn't come out of my room anymore. I shut down my life. The press, the court, the judges, the photographers, the fear of the trial, the bad things that were said about my mother and me -- I couldn't stand it. But it had nothing to do with Roman. A year later, after Roman had left the country, all I felt was a sense of relief: "He's gone! No more trials! Party!" I became a stoner. We drank a lot, took LSD, speed, cocaine, Quaaludes, everything.
SPIEGEL: Did you have problems with sex?
Geimer: No. I liked having sex.
SPIEGEL: In 1988 you decided to file a civil suit against Polanski, 11 years later. Why did you do that, all of a sudden? After all, you wanted to be left alone.
Geimer: But I had realized that it would never happen. This issue will never leave me alone. I couldn't go on living like that. We -- my husband and I -- needed money and had a young child. The fact that it was starting up again was Roman's fault, because he had written some unflattering things about my mother and me in his autobiography. In that case, I thought to myself, Roman should help me now. In other words, he should pay for it.
SPIEGEL: Polanski did pay.
Geimer: A six-figure amount.
SPIEGEL: Half a million dollars.
'I Don't Have to Hate Him'
Geimer: I don't feel bad about it. Roman paid without hesitation, just as he hadn't hesitated back then to plead guilty, as part of the deal, and go to prison for it.
SPIEGEL: Four years ago, in 2009, you suddenly received a letter from Polanski.
Geimer: It was a small, hand-written note. He FedExed it to me in Hawaii from France. I had already heard that he had found my address, and I thought to myself: "Oh no, I hope he's not coming here!"
SPIEGEL: What did he write?
Geimer: He had seen the 2008 documentary "Wanted and Desired," which portrayed the case pretty accurately. Roman wrote that he had watched the film twice, and that he felt a need to write to me. He wanted me to know how much he regretted having inflicted so much damage on my life. He also wrote that he was impressed by how much integrity I had shown in the film. The most important thing he wrote was that my mother should be left alone, and that it was entirely his fault.
SPIEGEL: Did it affect you?
Geimer: It meant a lot to me. But especially to my mother who, 30 years later, could finally read that it wasn't her fault. But it was also important for the rest of my family. They all wanted to hate Roman. It was one of the reasons I've now published this book.
SPIEGEL: It sounds strange, the way you talk about Roman. You never saw him again, and yet that evening in 1977, which is now 36 years ago, has tied together your life and his life. Could it be that it feels as if you knew each other well?
Geimer: We have a shared life, and yet we are complete strangers.
SPIEGEL: Did you watch his films after that?
Geimer: No. I wanted to keep my distance.
SPIEGEL: But in a weird way you kind of like him?
Geimer: Well, he went through just as much as I did.
SPIEGEL: It almost sounds like Stockholm syndrome.
Geimer: Just because I don't forever hate the person who has atoned for his crime? I don't have to hate him. Enough people do that already. I don't have to say anything bad about him, because I know what it feels like.
SPIEGEL: Did you ever feel sorry for him?
Geimer: I felt bad in 2009. He was put in jail pending extradition for a crime for which he had served his sentence 32 years earlier. At the time, it was a narcissistic judge, and this time it was all happening because District Attorney Steve Cooley wanted to become California's attorney general. I woke up every morning and thought: "Oh my God, Roman is in his mid-70s. He has children. It's horrible." But did I feel sorry for him? No. We're all adults. We've all made our mistakes and paid for them. He doesn't need me.
SPIEGEL: Would you ever like to meet Roman Polanski again?
Geimer: I don't know. Maybe. It would certainly be strange. But interesting, too. I would never say that I wouldn't do it. But I would never expect to have the opportunity, either.
SPIEGEL: Mrs. Geimer, thank you for this interview.