Samantha Geimer lives with her husband, Dave; her dog, Spike; and, on occasion, one or more of her three sons on a quiet cul-de-sac in Kilauea on Kauai’s North Shore. She’s a pleasant, upbeat woman in her 50s who has one grandchild and does not disguise her desire for more.
More than once, she’s locked herself out of her car at the nearby Foodland. She’s gotten to know the locksmiths.
But Kauai residents remain largely unaware of Sam Geimer’s presence on the island, much less her unique and lasting role in the U.S. criminal justice system. In 1977, when she was 13, acclaimed film director Roman Polanski convinced her mother to let her go on a photo shoot with him at the home of actor Jack Nicholson.
Once they got there, Polanski urged the young teen to remove her clothes. He took numerous photographs of her nude. He gave her alcohol and part of a Quaalude. Then he raped her.
Unlike many of the sexual abuse cases that have emerged in the entertainment and other industries as the #MeToo movement has swept the country and toppled dozens of prominent and powerful men from their positions, there was never any doubt that Sam Geimer had been victimized. She is the embodiment of #MeToo.
Her parents notified the Los Angeles Police Department within hours. Polanski was arrested. Though Geimer’s name was withheld from public disclosure, word spread quickly through and beyond her school, where she was condemned as a liar. Her parents were savaged for allegedly trying to exploit their daughter and get her a film role.
But the LAPD quickly discovered there was dispositive physical evidence. Tests established beyond any doubt that Polanski had forced sex on the 13-year-old — then Samantha Gailey. The case ground through the criminal justice system and blackened the reputations of the prosecutors who tried Polanski and the judges who presided.
It was messy because Polanski fled the country the day before he was to be sentenced. In those days, the maximum penalty was just a couple of years in prison. He ended up in France, where he now lives. Repeatedly, his lawyers sought to have the fugitive warrant withdrawn so he could return to be sentenced to time served under his original plea deal — which was for a 45-day state prison term.
Every request was denied. Twice — in Polanksi’s native Poland and in Switzerland— Los Angeles County tried unsuccessfully to extradite him. Polanski’s lawyers were planning one last, desperate attempt to get a court to withdraw the warrant when the #MeToo movement burst on the scene. Those plans were abandoned.
Unsurprisingly, Geimer has been drawn into #MeToo, which she in large part supports.
“It’s really important and it might actually make some changes in our culture and society about sexual harassment. I think it’s going to shift people’s perceptions and behavior,” she said.
But she worries that “good causes will be used by those who have an agenda, turning it into a vehicle to attack people and take people down. You can’t always believe the victim. It’s a little worrisome when an accusation is taken as true automatically. Then, like any cause, it gets hijacked.”
Shortly after her rape, Geimer’s family moved her to the distant San Fernando Valley suburbs and sent her to stay with relatives in Pennsylvania during the summers. She was always “The Girl,” which became the title of her memoir, published in 2013.
In 1988, at 25, she realized she would probably never get any peace if she stayed on the mainland. So she came to Kauai to recover and grow.
Media crews kept appearing regularly in her driveway, as the case took some other turn. The media scrutiny has fallen off quite a bit, but the occasional television crew still appears.
In 2017, she flew to Los Angeles to demand to finally be able to address the court in person for the first time since she was victimized and ask that Polanski be sentenced in absentia to time served. The judge declined.
In February, film director Quentin Tarantino charged that Geimer had been acting like a sex-loving “party girl” with Polanski. She fought back, pointing out that what happened to her was, by anyone’s definition, rape. Tarantino apologized.
“There’s a difference between what happens to you in your personal life and what happens to you in the media,” she said.
“We came here to Kauai and no one has the slightest interest in what happened to me,” she said.
She can go anywhere and do anything, recognized only occasionally after she has done one television interview or another. Her friends know her past, but no one dwells on it.
For now, she feels very much at home.
“There is still a little interest sometimes at the grocery store,” she said, “But I think the days of it being burdensome are pretty much over.”
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