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.”
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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