What do true crime and #MeToo have in common? They’re both huge movements right now. So it was only a matter of time before someone found a way to put these two together to create an event that would appeal to seemingly everyone.
Enter Netflix’s new series, Unbelievable.
The limited series is based on true events surrounding a serial rapist and the horrific legal journey one of his victims faced in the aftermath.
The show’s first episode is set in Washington state in 2008 when Marie (played by Kaitlyn Denver) reports that she was raped. She’s huddled in a blanket on the floor of her apartment where police and detectives are recording her statement and scouring for evidence. Marie is asked to tell her story, in her own words, numerous times. She undergoes a physical evaluation for a rape kit, is questioned by detectives yet again, and is utterly exhausted because she hasn’t had a moment to rest.
Towards the end of the first episode, the police get some information on Marie’s backstory as a foster child and the behavioral issues she exhibited. The detectives bring her back in and ask her, again, for her story. They call her a liar, say she’s making it all up, and bring her to the point where even she starts to doubt if what she’s saying is true. They break her even more than she was already broken and they eventually get her to say that she made the whole thing up.
The problem is, Marie didn’t make up the assault. She was trying desperately to cope with the trauma of the incident and no one believed anything she was saying, nor did any of the male detectives or officers give her so much as an empathetic, “I’m sorry this happened to you.” She was overwhelmed, scared, and threatened. She just wanted the whole ordeal to be over.
Marie is later charged with and convicted for false reporting.
Unbelievable is captivating, to say the least. No one knows how to make a show that’s binge-worthy quite like Netflix. The thing is though, the show is heavy. It’s heavy because while the courtroom drama and the search for the rapist keep viewers wanting more, the reality is that this is a true story and, sadly, not a unique one.
It’s true that proving that a rape happened is incredibly difficult, even with DNA evidence. It comes down to a matter of what he said vs. what she said and the core belief of the American justice system that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Sadly, for the victim, that also seems to mean that the accuser is lying until proven to be telling the truth.
The odds are against victims from the moment they decide to report an assault. 86.2% of American police officers and 69.8% of detectives are cis male and 90% of assault victims are female. So women are forced to walk into a police station to talk about something emotional, traumatizing, and terrifying and will, most likely, have to tell this story, over and over, to someone who doesn’t so much as have the same body parts as them. Not to mention, if the victim had been drinking or under the influence of drugs, she will have that much of a harder time proving she’s telling the truth, remembering the events correctly, and that she wasn’t “asking for it”.
According to the non-profit organization RAINN, only 250 out of 1,000 sexual assaults are reported. Of those 250 reports, only 4 rapists go on to get convicted and incarcerated. In a survey of survivors who didn’t report their rapes, 13% didn’t think the police would help and 8% believed it wasn’t important enough to report. Basically, our culture and justice system have failed so many people that victims think, “what’s the point?”
It’s no wonder why women would rather put themselves back together on their own than report their attack. Assault accusers are often treated less like victims and more like suspects when they report a rape. The only thing that could possibly be worse than being sexually assaulted, is having no one believe that it really happened and then getting a criminal charge because you finally throw your hands up and retreat just to make the whole thing stop — and it happens all the time.
Sexual assault is traumatizing and asking a victim to tell her story in the exact same way over and over is bound to end up in minor inconsistencies. The solution to this is not to bring an already-broken person to the point of doubt and surrender, it’s for officials to have proper training in speaking with and understanding people who have experienced trauma. It’s for men to understand what exactly consent is and what happens to a woman’s well-being when she’s violated. It’s for the same basic right of innocent until proven guilty to be given to accusers.
Netflix’s Unbelievable is bringing this broken system to the forefront of the conversation again. Perhaps the show will help further ignite a passion for much-needed change because, as Merrit Weaver’s character says, rape “is not something people get over, this is something they carry with them forever.”
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Feature photo courtesy of Netflix
Aside from being a writer, Ashley is a mom of two girls and a wife to a passionate public school administrator. When she does have free time (cue laughter from working moms everywhere) she loves going to hot yoga classes, watching anything on Netflix that isn’t a cartoon, and weaving her way through every aisle of Target while listening to one of her favorite podcasts.