tv

"No one ever accuses a robbery victim of lying": What Netflix's Unbelievable nails about reporting rape.

Content Warning: This article contains descriptions of rape and violence and might be upsetting for some readers. 

This article contains spoilers for the Netflix show Unbelievable, which is based on a true story.

Anyone who has watched Netflix’s Unbelievable will tell you, the true story is hard to watch.

Based paragraph by paragraph on T. Christian Miler and Kem Armstrong’s Pulitzer Prize-winning article, An Unbelievable Story of Rape, the eight-part TV series follows two female detectives as they hunt down a serial rapist terrorising women by crossing age, race and state borders.

The story begins in 2008 when an 18-year-old woman named Marie Adler (in real life, we don’t know Marie’s first or last name; Marie is her middle name) played by Kaitlyn Dever calls the police and tells them she has been raped.

You can watch the trailer for Unbelievable below. Post continues after video.

Video by Netflix

The young Washington woman tells police a man broke into her home, snuck quietly into her bedroom during the night, blindfolded her and raped her at knifepoint for hours on end.

Marie is made to tell her story in excruciating again and again to multiple cops, detectives and hospital staff over the next 24 hours. And the more the police detectives press her for information, the more unsure of her own story Marie seemingly becomes.

Three days after her rape, Marie is coerced by two male detectives into agreeing she might have dreamt that someone had broke in and raped her. She’s charged with filing a false report and a court orders her to pay a $500 fine. The ‘lie’ destroys Marie’s life, so much so, she contemplates ending hers.

But as the series shows viewers, Marie wasn’t lying. She is one of several women raped by Marc Patrick O’Leary, a former military man using a police handbook on rape to execute the crimes without getting caught. It’s only by a stroke of luck that a Colorado detective, Detective Karen Duvall (Detective Stacy Galbraith in real life) played by Merritt Wever, sees a connection between one of her rape cases and a case in a neighbouring district.

ADVERTISEMENT
unbelievable true story
Merritt Wever and Toni Collette in Unbelievable. Image: Netflix.

From there, Detective Duvall and Toni Collette's Detective Grace Rasmussen (Detective Edna Hendershot in real life), slowly piece together the identity of the serial rapist from a few DNA cells and a number of victims with frighteningly similar stories.

Only once O’Leary is arrested and images from Marie's rape are found in his belongings do Washington police realise the cost of not believing Marie.

You can also listen to Mamamia's entertainment podcast The Spill unpack the true story behind Unbelievable below.

As shown in the final episode of Unbelievable, Marie hires a new lawyer to sue the city of Lynwood, Washington, for damages covering the immense impact the actions of the police had on her life. There, in the high-flying city lawyer's swanky office, a simple interaction sums up what the Netflix series nails about reporting rape.

After showing Marie into his office, he says matter-of-factly, as if sensing Marie's reservations, "By the way, let me just say... what happened to you should not happen to anyone, ever."

"No one ever accuses a robbery victim of lying, or someone who says he was carjacked. Doesn't happen. But when it comes to sexual assault..." he adds.

It's the first time Marie hears that sentiment. Those words.

ADVERTISEMENT
unbelievable
This brief conversation nails why so many women are too scared to report their rapes. Image: Netflix.

From the morning police made her recount the traumatic incident over and over again to the moment she learned her rapist had been caught three years later, Marie was never once told her rape wasn't her fault.

Her rape wasn't her fault.

Be it, as the lawyer pointed out, a carjacking or a robbery, or a hit and run or identity theft - victims of other crimes aren't accused of lying like sexual assault victims are.

We know women are afraid to report their assaults for fear of not being believed.

In the US, RAINN reports only 230 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. Numbers in Australia show almost one in five women have experienced sexual violence, but only one of every six of those women will report their experience.

While a robbery victim isn't questioned about why they left their windows unlocked, a rape victim is often asked to justify what they wore, said or did that might explain why them.

The real life Marie got justice in 2011 when her rapist Marc Patrick O’Leary was sentenced to 327 and a half years in prison.

But not before not being believed nearly cost her her life.

Have you watched Netflix's Unbelievable yet? Tell us what you think below.

Read more: 

00:00 / ???