The Roman Polanski Humanitarian Award: Ilya Trushevsky & other recipients

This is a guest post by Natalia Antonova.

Sexual assault trigger warning.

So. Seems that something evil happened in Moscow over the May Day weekend. Ilya Trushevsky, a young artist famous for installations that involved turtles covered in rhinestones (I know, I know), was arrested and charged with attempted rape of a 17-year-old student. You can get the gist of the story from the article by Vladimir Kozlov, who works with me at The Moscow News (I ended up assigning Vladimir the story when I heard about it over the weekend).

Just as our headline states, the fall-out from the Trushevsky case has been epic. This is because Nikolai Nikifirov, a poet who was staying over at Ilya’s place, claims to have heard Ilya and an as-of-yet-unnamed friend of his assaulting the girl in the next room, and posted an account of what he says went down on LiveJournal. Most of it is so graphic that we couldn’t print the details.

Ilya initially retaliated with an LJ post that was more graphic – and more horrifying – because he laughed about the entire thing, made fun of the victim’s injuries (which, RIA Novosti reported, were extensive), gloated about how everyone down at the prosecutor’s office just thought the entire thing was hilarious, and that he will get off scot-free. He has since changed his tune somewhat – now he has tender concern for this girl, who was clearly “influenced” to press charges – though there are screencaps of his supporters threatening people who have written about the situation.

I have slogged through hundreds and hundreds of comments and commentaries, reading everything from “but they picked that slut up at a nightclub!” (as opposed to a convent – though it’s not as if we can’t find creative ways to blame nuns for getting raped as well – I mean, what are they DOING in those convents? You can’t blame the fellas for being curious, right?) to “haha, you better keep looking over your shoulder, Ilya, ’cause we’re coming for your ass!” (vigilante justice is not in the best interests of the victim in this case, but I can understand where that sentiment originated, especially when newspapers hadn’t yet reported on the case and everyone was wondering if it would simply go away) to people who came out of the woodwork to claim that Ilya is pretty famous for bad treatment of women. The comments sections on various LJ’s have turned into utter zoos as the result, and discussing all of the issues that were brought up as the result of this ase would probably require writing a dissertation or two.

I would, however, like to focus on one thing in particular, and that is the “Polanskification” of Ilya Trushevsky. Because it’s happening.

I was first reminded of Ropo, as some of us affectionately refer to him these days, when I stumbled into a clusterfuck on the a prominent Russian LJ. Lena Korsarova, who identified as a rape survivor, a member of the overall “bohemia” that includes people like Trushevsky, and an affiliate of Russia’s legendary Mosfilm movie studio, decided to comment on the case. Here’s a rough translation of a few of the things she said:

“Yeah, let’s all sigh and moan for the poor little broad. Did Trushevsky force her to go home with him?”

“I am more or less on the equal footing with guys like this, and often, I find it interesting to spend time with them, as they do with me, and as for what they do with little girls – everyone makes their own kind of fun, it’s not the most dangerous way to amuse yourself.”

“Because of her stupidity, she could ruin the life of a talented person.”

“DANG,” said the internet.

Korsarova’s position is not that shocking, if you think about. Like many rape survivors, she never quite got the “it’s not your fault” memo. It’s obvious that no one was around to comfort her. And as an individual who is nevertheless clever and talented, she’s obviously had some success in life, which then allowed her to look down on “poor little broads” – the ones whom people like Trushevsky can apparently rape with impunity.

The “poor little broads” are really a class onto themselves. We must always differentiate them from people who deserve respect – and bodily integrity. When Anne Applebaum referred to parts of the testimony of Polanski’s teenage victim as “salacious,” the same principles were at work. Because we are encouraged to view what happens to these girls as no big deal. Maybe it’s kinda dirty, sure. And a little rough. But that’s the price they must pay for thinking themselves worthy of the attention of talented men, right?

Here’s a caveat – When I’m not busy being a journalist, I am busy trying to be a writer. I sometimes hang out with people who tend to have creative professions. I have found myself embroiled in debacles that have confused me and made me question my choices and just how much or how little power I have over a given situation. I have found myself saying this someone I know and care about: “He’s talented. That’s what matters most to me.” Granted, the dude in question wasn’t writing charming blog posts and Facebook updates about how he’d just beat up and raped a “drunk idiot,” but I still wonder, just how far am I willing to go in excusing an individual based on his talent.

A conversation I recently had with a director about the Trushevsky case veered into familiar territory. It went something like this:

“She should have known better. People like Trushevsky are dangerous, because they are unhinged. They’re artists. ‘Unhinged’ is practically a requirement.”

“So let me get this straight: beating up and raping a woman helps him do a better job of gluing rhinestones to a turtle?”

“You’re being willfully obtuse. You know what I mean!”

“Right. Now tell me that part about how Polanski is a poor victim of the bourgeois establishment that has no use for his great films.”

“He’s a scapegoat. He’s no danger to anyone at this point. They should drop it.”

“He’s a DANGER to all of those women who are going to be RAPED for as long as people look at someone like Polanski and go, ‘well, if he can get away with it’…”

“Oh, so you’re saying that we should make an example out of Polanski?”

“I’m saying that Polanski made an example out of himself. When he drugged and raped that girl, to be precise.”

“That’s cheap melodrama.”

“I’ll take it over the idea that it’s OK for ‘great artists’ to pull this crap.”

“Good luck with that.”

Dang indeed.

Plenty of people are more than willing to believe that Trushevsky is debauched and evil simply by virtue of his chosen profession. I’m not going to lie and say that innocent people haven’t been accused of shit on account of them being automatically understood as “deviants.” In this case though, I don’t feel any particular sympathy for the person in question. He uses the “deviance” excuse himself. Trushevsky sees himself as misunderstood – a free spirit shackled by the puritans. When he attacked his friend Nikolai Nikifirov for calling the cops on him, he retaliated with such colourful lines as “when was the last time you had a woman?” Clearly, Nikifirov was just jealous of Trushevsky’s awesomely shocking bohemian existence and therefore had to go and kill the vibe with all of this tedious “rape” stuff. Clearly.

The “puritans,” of course, are after Polanski. They don’t get it – the 70’s were a wild and crazy time! When boys were boys, and drugged children were nervous! Can’t we all just lighten up about it already? So many people think we ought to. I don’t even want to list them here. It depresses me.

And then there’s the simple fact of social standing. When those stupid Polanski petitions started making their rounds, one of the phrases that really stuck out at me at the time was the outrage over the fact that Roman Polanski had been apprehended “like a common terrorist.” The outrage! In a similar vein, Trushevsky’s victim has been described in terms that are meant to underline the fact that she is most likely below his station – “provincial” is one of the more charitable descriptions of her out there.

Does anyone even deny that a rape has take place? Not really. They don’t need to. Much like Polanski himself doesn’t feel the need to mention the victim in that pissy statement he released the other day from the confines of his slimy dungeon infested with a particularly aggressive species of centipede luxurious ski chalet.

You know, I was in a situation recently when I found out that a woman close to me had been physically and sexually assaulted by a fairly famous playwright. It happened at rehearsal. In front of other people. The famous playwright grabbed the woman, an actor, between the legs and screamed, “you need to sing like a cock is going in you!” She said that it hurt so much, she started to cry. Everyone just stared. The same playwright also threw the same actror against the wall, smacking her head pretty hard in the process. She burst into tears. Once again, everyone just stared.

It happened a while ago, and I’ve been trying to deal with my feelings about this ever since. This playwright is someone I know. I haven’t crossed paths with him lately, but it’s bound to happen. I think plenty of people know about the way he treats women – he’d never pull the same shit with a man, of course – but people still work with him. They invite him to events. They listen to what he has to say. His victims are made invisible. It’s impolite to mention them.

“Drop it, just drop it,” the same director told me when I confessed my feelings of rage on the matter, how I wanted to do something, anything, to hurt and humiliate the man who had hurt and humiliated someone I love. “You’re not in a position to change anything. Everyone loves him. He’s powerful. He’s talented.”

Of course he is.

I don’t know what I should do. I don’t know what I can do. The actor in question isn’t exactly keen to re-visit these incidents. She has moved on. Hell, she talk to this playwright guy all the time. She works with him. She debates him. And I’m reduced to thinking inexcusable thoughts such as “just when are you going to actually DO it?” whenever the playwright in question strikes a tragic pose and begins yammering on about how he considers suicide every morning. In my own helpless bitterness, I stop recognizing myself.

I wonder if any of the people who knew Ilya Trushevsky from way back when have felt the same way.


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29 Responses to The Roman Polanski Humanitarian Award: Ilya Trushevsky & other recipients

  1. usckitty says:

    “Because of her stupidity, she could ruin the life of a talented person.”

    Let’s face it…What we have here is the new rape apologist credo…

    EMPATHY FOR RAPISTS…

  2. This kind of attitude – among journalists, among intellectuals, among political elites – is very much a prevailing norm in Eastern Europe. I am reminded of a recent case when an ‘expert’ in criminal activity and university professor said that women are bringing rape onto themselves because of how they dress and because they are bimbos. Some (if not many?) women, long known to be among the most fierce defenders of patriarchal systems and values, are also embracing this attitude. I am happy to see this guest post here!

  3. Sasha says:

    Those hipster p*icksters remind me of this dynamic duo.

  4. PrettyAmiable says:

    My heart is completely broken over this.

  5. Sarah says:

    Whenever these cases come up, I lose a little more faith in humanity.

  6. anodyne lite says:

    As a woman who’s been sexually assaulted multiple times, I will never- not for as long as I live- understand why so many women effectively defend the men who assault and rape women by blaming victims.

    I’ve heard the rote explanation millions of times; a lot of these victim-blaming women were assaulted themselves, and never fully got over the idea that they could’ve stopped the whole thing. But this just doesn’t resonate with me, at all- not only was I incapable of stopping it each time, nobody else around (there were plenty of witnesses and bystanders, each time) seemed very concerned with trying to stop it, either.

    What’s even worse than victims who learn to victim blame, though, is the general slut-shaming that (all too often) passes for feminism. When “feminists” slut-shame, they aid and abet rape culture on the most pernicious of terms.

    The way I tend look at the world now is: I can’t control everything and everyone, but I can call out “feminists” who slut shame when I see it happening. This is the only way I’ve found to avoid feeling completely powerless against violence-on-women. I’d suggest it as a strategy to anyone dealing with these issue.

    Now if we could get more men on board, we might make some real headway…

  7. g_whiz says:

    I’ve heard and read some ugly justifications of date rape over the years…but this is beyond vile. Nothing makes me more furious than when a young woman internalizes the status quo when it comes to date rape. Oh its YOUR fault a man can’t control his impulses when he sees you. In a universe where smug politicians are consumed with “personal responsibility” its baffling how rape cases almost invariably try the victim instead. We officially live in a sick, sad world.

  8. Natalia says:

    thinkdifference – Considering the huge outpouring of support from Western creative types for Polanski (even Milan Kundera signed that damn petition), I’d say this is pretty much a “norm” in these circles as well. The closing of ranks, etc.

    I think in Moscow in particular, people in general (I’m not just talking about those that go “but he’s talented!”) don’t sweep pro-rape sentiment under the carpet if they agree with it, they’re rather blunt about it – and that’s what used to shock me. Not anymore. And date rape in particular is seen by many people as a “lesser” offense or a “chance to learn a lesson about how the world really works,” etc. Considering the (regrettably justifiable) cynicism most people have toward law enforcement in this part of the world, the attitude toward such crimes is almost automatically harsher. People don’t think the cops will be useful at all, so it’s a matter of: a) get your male friends or relatives to beat the perpetrator up, or b) just learn to deal with what happened to you and try to remember that it’s not the end of the world. Obviously, not all people think this way, but based on the comments I have read and read over the last few weeks – I’d say about half do.

    anodyne – I’m very sorry that this happened to you, love. I think some people learn to cope with a combination of disassociation and a kind of hazing of “the latest batch” of victims (when Korsarova’s comments came up, that’s what a bunch of people said – she had an attitude like they do toward new recruits in the army). It makes me very bitter to read these statements as well.

  9. May says:

    This is revolting.
    I’m reminded of the case involving the lead singer of a very famous French Rock band, Noir Desir. In 2006-7, he killed his girlfriend and only got a 4 year jail sentence- and there was an incredible uproar of ‘solidarity’ towards him, saying “he’s a passionate artist” blablah. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article2672512.ece
    About Polanski, check out this article about how, in his film Tess, he actually changes the plot written by Hardy to make the rape victim sound guilty:
    http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/zoebrigley/?num=10&start=30

  10. Natalia says:

    Wow, fuck. I listen to Noir Desir.

  11. Hel says:

    Perhaps other women blame the victim because they feel more safe. If you think that a girl has been raped because she is a bimbo, or she doesn’t take care of her security, or she is stupid or careless or drunk, you can feel safe, because you are not a bimbo, you take care of your security, and you are not stupid, careless or drink too much.

    I think it’s the same when a person has a cancer, if you think that it’s his or her fault, because he or she has unhealthy habits (not eating vegetables, drinking, smoking etc), then you feel safe because it is not going to happen to you.

    They don’t think that the raper is the only reponsible, because then you don’t have control of your life, and horrible things can happen to you.

  12. usckitty says:

    Hel, it’s the Just World theory…they want to believe that there are rules that govern who gets raped and who does not. It’s comforting to know that if you do everything right, that you won’t get raped. However, rape apology leaves out the fact that the rapist does not feel the need nor the desire to abide by such rules. I find it irritating and extremely frustrating that they seem to believe that rape will be a thing of the past if women just followed their rules. Countless stories have proven otherwise, but they would rather have the victims examine themselves to see “what they did wrong.” The attitudes contribute to our permissive condoning of rape and our rape culture and thus endanger women and men.

  13. anodyne lite says:

    I think the Just World theory makes a lot of sense… perhaps it’s also a way of telling onerself that it won’t happen again, if you’re sure never to dress up, wear makeup, walk down the wrong street, etc.

  14. James Davis says:

    I’m not surprised that “ЖЖ” is involved with getting the word out on this.

    It is somewhat worrisome though. It appears that a desire to allow “freedom from censorship” in art has morphed into a ridiculous desire to allow “immunity from the law”.

    I seriously hope that the victim in this case (for those playing the home game: hint, it’s not Ilya) finds justice.

  15. Shai says:

    So we’re caught between the “Just World” hypothesis and the “Some animals are more equal than others” scheme? No. Screw that happy horsepucky. I don’t think intelligence is a moral handicap and if this guy’s behaviour is related to his art, then I’m tempted to liken his art to Mengele’s science.

  16. Politicalguineapig says:

    Well, in cases like this, police around the world are worthless. Doesn’t matter if it’s Moscow or Podunk USA. I hope someone puts a mob hit on RoPo’s and Ilya’s asses.

  17. Politicalguineapig says:

    Should’ve read “in rape cases, police are worthless.”

  18. PrettyAmiable says:

    @Shai, because his art requires mass numbers of people to die for it to be furthered because they look or were born a certain way?

    This guy’s a douchebag, but he’s not a key player in the Holocaust. Not everything is like the Holocaust. His art is like Polanski’s in that it doesn’t make him a special little flower that’s above the law.

    That said, I think understand what you’re saying. The Just World Hypothesis is an attempt to explain why rape apologism exists – I don’t think the commenters who bring it up are suggesting that everyone subscribes to it – least likely are visitors to a feminist blog.

  19. Natalia says:

    I think there’s also the idea of rape not really being “that bad”. Sure, it’s a bad thing if it happens to you or someone you know (oddly enough!) – but in the “grand scheme” of things, as people are fond of saying, rape is “natural” or else it “makes sense based on evolution” (anyone remember A Natural History of Rape?) or any number of things. Many people entertain such views in all seriousness.

  20. Natalia says:

    Also, it always struck me as interesting how rape is singled out in this instance. For example, it’s perfectly natural to shit in your own backyard. But for some reason, the people who advance the “rape really is OK because our ancestors did it so whatever” theory never quite take it that far. Hmmm. Gee. I do wonder why.

  21. Idari says:

    Thank you for your article, it’s awesome. I’m Russian and don’t really need to read in English (however I like your writing style in English very much). But the world does.

  22. Sheelzebub says:

    Thank you for posting this, Natalia. This shit just sickens me. It truly does.

  23. Hannah says:

    This makes me want to scream…
    By the by, just last week I was reading Le Monde (big french newspaper, for those who don’t know), and came across this gem by friggin’ Milan Kundera (hey, guess whose book I’m not buying after all…!):

    http://www.lemonde.fr/opinions/article/2010/05/06/la-prison-de-roman-polanski-par-milan-kundera_1347555_3232.html

    “The Prison of Roman Polanksi.” Seriously. Kundera has the gall to say that Polanski being held accountable for his crime is “absurd”, he says Polanski’s situation is a “cruel pantomime”, and best of all, he adds that “All the actors have pardoned him!” as some sort of justification, which is just totally fucking brilliant. Yep, if Hollywood says its ok, it’s ok!

    …sorry. needed to get that out.

  24. O says:

    It seems that for many in Russia a woman doesn’t have a right over her body. Only being a part of a male dominant system, like being somebody’s wife, daughter or sister can give a woman a legitimate right over her body. Thus raping a solitary woman is not as bad as raping a married one.
    It’s a good thing that the Trushevsky’s story started a discussion of gender roles in Russian society. I believe that Kolya Nikiforov did the right thing. Being a male from Russia I guess I understand how difficult it was for him.

  25. Rebecca says:

    It seems that for many in Russia a woman doesn’t have a right over her body. Only being a part of a male dominant system, like being somebody’s wife, daughter or sister can give a woman a legitimate right over her body. Thus raping a solitary woman is not as bad as raping a married one.

    Well, of course. If you rape someone’s wife, you’ve damaged his property. /sarcasm

  26. O says:

    Not you just damaged his property, but you also hit his masculanity, which is worse. Wife can be replaced if needed.

  27. Natalia says:

    I think the issue of opportunity also comes into play. If a woman doesn’t have a husband or boyfriend, if she lives away from her parents or isn’t close to them – well, that probably means that her male friends and relatives won’t come after you! I’m fairly certain that most rapists calculate such risks. It’s why someone like Ilya also relied on shaming later – and laughed about how the victim was afraid her parents would find out. He knows that if they do find out – even if they are furious at her for going over to that flat (it all depends on what kind of people they are), they are still going to be out to get him. So it’s important to make it appear as though the situation is too shameful for anyone to know.

    “All the actors have pardoned him!”

    Well, THAT’s a relief! Personally, I seek out Lady Gaga whenever I need to atone for my sins.

    Seriously, what in the hell, Milan Kundera, WHAT IN THE HELL. I was hoping that in his case, the petition was signed because he was looking out for his friend, or something, and didn’t pause to consider the horrific implications of this entire thing. Guess I was wrong.

  28. Politicalguineapig says:

    Natalia: I had to give up on Johnny Depp and Ethan Hawke because of this debacle. Ethan’s a small loss, although I hope he loses custody of his daughter, (who’s the same age RoPo’s victim was at the time) but Johnny.. *wails.* Seriously, I thought Depp had more class.

  29. Helen says:

    Natalya, re your “conversation with a director”: you present it as if to say you lost the round, but thank you, thank you so much for going to bat against that. I never would be so astute (Always the Esprit d’escalier, me.)

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