Trigger Warning: This show has very graphic and disturbing scenes of rape from the victim’s perspective.
Netflix’s new limited series “Unbelievable” directly addresses the problems of disbelief and doubt sexual assault victims often face when reporting their attacks. Following the true story of an 18-year-old named Marie (played by Kaitlyn Dever) who was raped in her apartment in 2008, the show brings viewers directly into the trauma, discomfort and helplessness of rape victims both during their attack and after.
The first episode of the series uses a combination of flashbacks and point-of-view shots to place the viewer directly in Marie’s head. Terrifying flashes of the rapist on top of her, threatening her, wielding a knife and abandoning her tied up take over the episode each time someone asks Marie about what happened. And the disbelieving, inconsiderate male detectives (played by Bill Fagerbakke and John Hartmann) force her to repeat her story over five times.
Even before the male detectives stop believing Marie’s story due to small inconsistencies (likely caused by her traumatic experience) in her description of her rape, they treated Marie without real sympathy or emotional support. They had her repeat her story over and over again. They didn’t warn her about the invasive hospital exam that she would have to undergo. They didn’t even talk about her case with any sort of emotion, instead they joked about a case they had worked on where the rapist sued the girl who accused him. This lack of bedside manner was made clear in the second episode when one of the two female detective/main characters (played by Merritt Wever) gently and sympathetically assists a similar rape victim through the post-rape process.
Once the cops started doubting Marie’s story, due to both her ex-foster mother’s own doubts and Marie’s minor inconsistencies, they brought her into an interrogation booth and pressured her to admit that the rape never happened. Coerced and confused, Marie agreed to write a statement saying it never happened, even though she knew it did. Once word got out in her foster-home-rehabilitation community, everyone she knew turned on her. Her friends in therapy yelled at her, her counselors told her that her lies were just a “bump in the road” and her ex-foster dad refused to be alone with her in case he was accused of rape as well. With no one left to believe her, she became suicidal.
The remainder of the series jumps between Marie’s story and the stories of the two female detectives that investigate identical rapes occurring two years after her own. The stark difference between the women detectives that care about the victims and are committed to solving the crime and the male detectives that treated Marie like she was the criminal is shocking.
The show sheds light on the need for both more sensitive police officers being placed in charge of victims of sexual assault as well as an end to the distrust of victims. If women like Marie have to suffer through the doubt and hostility of those meant to help them, on top of the horrific mental and physical trauma of their attacks, then how are they ever supposed to recover?
But despite the series’ clear message, it’s also just great television. It had all the thrill of a cop drama with the terror of a true story, making it impossible to end an episode without starting the next. In a word, it was addicting.
Rebecca Maher is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.