What’s really unbelievable is that the system continues to fail survivors of sexual assault.
The new Netflix limited series Unbelievable follows the true story of 18 year old Marie (Kaitlyn Dever), who was raped by a masked intruder and serial rapist in the middle of the night. The morning after her attack, Marie reported it to the police and had a rape kit performed on her, providing a detailed explanation of what happened as she was questioned by detectives and medical examiners.
Even from the early stages of Marie’s contact with police and the criminal justice system, her case was not properly handled. Police treated her as a suspect rather than a survivor, and subjected her to an interrogation rather than trying to help her. We see this in the first two episodes when she was asked to walk them through her attack multiple times through both verbal and written statements, as if they were trying to point out inconsistencies to catch her in a lie.
Feeling revictimized by the police, Marie decided it would be easier for her to retract her statement and say she made the whole thing up, which resulted in the lead detectives scolding her and eventually charging her with false reporting later on. This also occurred after Marie’s former foster mother’s expressed their doubts to the police about the attack because of Marie’s odd behavior. They basically said that she wasn’t “acting like someone who had just been raped.”
When word got out that she “lied”, Marie faced even more repruccisions, like losing friends, her job, her housing, free counseling, and even suffered from suicidal thoughts. She received a $500 court fine and was put on supervised probation. She felt alone, helpless, and hopeless that this would ever get better. She practically had to go through this entire ordeal alone at only 18 years old.
Marie’s story not only shows us the raw, devastating process of what it’s like for a woman to go through the stages of experiencing a rape and what happens after it’s reported, but it also shows us just how real and disgusting rape culture is and how it impacts survivors of sexual assault psychologically, emotionally, and physically when society doesn’t believe them.
No one believed Marie’s story until years later when two female detectives investigated a series of rapes of women of varying ages in completely different areas, but with good police work and a lot of luck, the detectives discovered that every single rape was perpetrated by the same man. His behavior during the attacks was consistent with each report, including Marie’s.
The rapist would tie the women up, blindfold them, assault them for hours, take pictures of them, and force them to wash up after. He left no fibers, DNA, or prints at the scene, which told detectives that he was either in law enforcement or he had military experience because of how pristine and careful he was.
It was not until the final episodes of the series that Marie and the other survivors got justice. For many months, the case had no leads, no suspects, and minimal evidence to work with, so the rapist was free to attack several more women without detection.
As the true crime drama came to a close, the rapist was sentenced to 327 years in prison. The lead detective on Marie’s case (the one who didn’t believe her) reached out to Marie and informed her that her rapist had been arrested. She got her $500 back and ended up suing the city, settling for $150,000.
Unbelievable shows us that the system continuously fails sexual assault survivors because the cases are often dismissed and not taken as seriously as other crimes, like murder. Because rape cases do not always have substantial physical evidence, society jumps at the first opportunity to call survivors liars and view them as the bad guys, when in reality, there’s a rapist running loose ready to strike again.