Netflix’s 'Unbelievable'

*Warning: This article contains sensitive content that may be triggering to some.*


Shortly after the release of this Netflix Original, I found myself binge-watching episodes and going through tissues faster than ever.

Based on a true story, Unbelievable follows multiple characters who were affected by the case, but focuses on Marie Adler, a young woman who is sexually assaulted in her own apartment in the middle of the night.

The series draws from the article that was published in ProPublica and was later featured on This American Life titled “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” 

Although the show was released a few months ago, the content was heavy and took a little bit to process.

Because of the nature of the case, its content is still relevant, no matter how long ago it took place.

We are living in a new age where the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements are allowing victims of sexual assault to come forward in an effort to reclaim the stigma associated with being a survivor as well as provide legal assistance to those who need it.

Ensuring that work environments are safe and healthy for all is another goal of these movements, as harmful and unsafe practices have gone on for far too long. 

The show stars Kaitlyn Dever, who recently played a leading role in Booksmart alongside Beanie Feldstein, as Marie Adler.

Her story is what fuels the show and it also showcases the hardships that many people face when coming forward in the wake of an assault.

It is 2009 in Lynwood, Washington. The morning after she is assaulted, she contacts the local police, a close friend, and a few of her previous foster parents.

As with any case of sexual assault, Adler is instructed to go to the hospital for thorough testing in an effort to find evidence that could point to a suspect.

This process is excruciating no matter the circumstances, and the show makes it a point to include this part of the process. 

Next, she deals with police reports and extensive explanations of the events that took place.

Her apartment was broken into in the middle of the night and she found herself held at knife-point.

Her assailant was wearing a mask, took photos during the assault, forced her to shower for a very specific amount of time after she was raped, and then left absolutely nothing at the crime scene.

Because the event was traumatic, recalling exact details and when they occurred was difficult for Adler, which is not uncommon with these cases.

The police officers assigned to her case - two men - questioned her story multiple times and became upset when small inconsistencies came up in her story.

They continued to ask her incredibly specific questions - who she called first, what she did immediately after he left, and other things of the sort - and ended up questioning the validity of her report. 

Upon finding out that her story was inconsistent, one of her previous foster parents came forward and suggested to the officers that Marie may have made up the entire story.

Claiming that she had a history of seeking attention from others and other behavior that was attributed to spending her life in the foster system, she believed that Marie was lying and was simply looking for others to feel sorry for her.

This causes the officers to further question Marie and eventually force her to take back her report.

They got her to confess to lying about the entire incident and then charged her with a gross misdemeanor for filing a false report. 

After accepting a plea deal in an effort to put everything that had happened behind her, Marie agreed to pay a fine of $500 to the Lynwood Police Department, as well as go on supervised probation and go to counseling for her lying habits. 

A couple of years later in Golden, Colorado, another rape investigation takes place. Another young woman experiences an assault strikingly similar to Adler’s, but there is no tie to the cases…  yet.

As you watch the show, you begin to put together that all of the cases reported are connected, but this was not immediately apparent as they were taking place in real-time. 

Through talks with husbands and colleagues and similar details reported in rape cases they were investigating, two detectives -- Karen Duvall and Grace Rasmussen -- end up teaming up and working together to investigate a series of rapes.

They believe they are after the same person, but there is still very little concrete evidence to support this aside from the details provided by victims. 

As they gather more information about the items that were noticed by victims during each of the assaults such as shoelaces, a distinct backpack, a pair of Adidas sneakers, and a pink Sony CyberShot camera, they find a few different leads.

Eventually, through intense research and gathering of evidence, Duvall and Rasmussen find the serial rapist and discover a collection of photos that were taken by him during the assaults.

All of the victims that Duvall and Rasmussen had familiarity with were found across these photos except for one -- a young woman named Marie Adler. She was identified through the photo ID that was in one of the photos that was taken that night.

Adler’s detectives were poorly trained and handled her case with little respect. Their only goal seemed to be to prove that she was lying, despite the fact that she originally told the truth.

The only lies she told were the ones she was forced to tell by the officers themselves. This is just one case of people in power not believing the stories of those who come forward, and it can be incredibly dangerous.

While the show was heartbreaking and intense, I found myself on the edge of my seat the entire time and would frequently start the next episode after finishing one.

Watching how the case unfolded was so intriguing and it was incredible how they put everything together to bring justice to their victims.

The show paid very little attention to the details of the serial rapist and focused on the victims, especially Adler and her experience during and after the investigation.

The focus of the show is to bring justice to the women who were assaulted and provide the details of this case. There are so many features of the case that are truly unbelievable and shocking, but the story must be told.

Overall, the show is incredibly well done and extremely informative.

While we all want to live in a world where those who come forward about sexual assault are believed without a single doubt, this show reinforces the notion that this is not yet our reality.

It is a truly cautionary tale, as we must make changes within our institutions and within every fabric of our society to ensure that no victim ever feels the need to keep quiet or silenced by others.

We still have so much work to do to ensure that safety is a priority in the workplace and outside of it, as well as ensuring that rapists are prosecuted for their crimes.

Far too often, they get away with their actions and continue to assault people as they realize they can easily get away with it.

The goal of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund is to do exactly that: provide legal assistance to those who need it and reinforce the message that time is up for injustice within society. 

It is a well-known fact that many people know someone who has been affected by sexual assault. If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.