Volunteer writer, Lou Goswell, gives us her insights on Netflix’s Unbelievable.

TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence.

Here are some statistics: Unbelievable received 97% from Rotten Tomatoes; between April 2018 and March 2019, 162,030 Sexual Assaults had been reported throughout England and Wales; there are exactly 8 episodes of Unbelievable; statistics demonstrate that there are more police recorded sexual offences in 2019 than there has ever been; as of March 2019, according to the CSEW Survey, 2.9% of 16 – 59 year olds have been victims of sexual assault; Unbelievable is a total of 385 minutes; the CSEW Survey found that 20% of women and 4% of men have experienced sexual assault; the CSEW Survey found that 5/6 victims did not report their experiences to the police (Office for National Statistics).

It seems a little insensitive to convert human experience into a statistical one, right?

Netflix’s Unbelievable, shows the harrowing experience of one woman’s attempt to report her attack. In Lynwood Washington, Marie Adler, aged 18, is caught in the technical procedures and ‘box-ticking’ nature of crime-reporting. Marie approaches the police after an attacker has come into her home and raped her; however, she is soon persuaded to claim that her report is a false statement, under the pressure of the reporting procedure. Marie is asked to repeat the exact events of the attack multiple times throughout the first episode, demonstrating the torment that a victim must go to in order to get justice; the act of fighting for justice can traumatise a victim more. Marie is made to feel as though she is on trial, repeating her story to the various departments, just hours after the attack. It is clear to the viewer, that Marie is numbed, leading to a confused narrative of events. Rather than putting this to shock, the two male detectives, Pruitt and Parker, quickly believe that this is someone who cannot get their false story straight. They, like I did at the start of this article, remove the human compassion from their investigation, merely looking to quickly close the case.

Marie is judged by her background, causing prejudice to prevent her case from being taken seriously. She is a foster child, having just found her independence in her job and home; however, it is suggested that she desires attention. The example of this used is a flashback to her dancing on a table at a children’s party. Her behaviour, prior to the report, is used against her, and she is dismissed for wanting attention. The viewer is not asked to figure out whether this is true, but instead told explicitly that her account is truthful. We are meant the empathise with Marie, helping us to recognise the injustice at work.

Unbelievable is at times hard to watch; however, it is expertly managed by Susannah Grant (director) in a way that we, as viewers, can be hopeful. This is done by entwining Marie’s narrative with that of Rasmussen and Duvall, two female detectives who are investigating similar rape cases in Colorado. Rather than following a narrative of trauma, succeeded by a happy ending, the viewer is permitted a slither of hope throughout the series, by watching the interaction between Marie’s narrative with Rasmussen and Duvall’s. Their narrative is one of empathy, demonstrating how effective policing can be if handled with care. It’s pretty simple, really: a rapist goes free under the investigation of Pruitt and Parker, who are insensitive to Marie’s mental state; whereas, Rasmussen and Duvall reassure the victims that it’s ok to forget and to deal with abuse in your own way, and, ultimately, find the perpetrator. They remind us that you should never apologise for how you deal with trauma. The pair also offer some light comedy to lift the show slightly, making the 8 episodes more bearable to watch.

It’s probably worth mentioning that the show is based on a true story, unbelievable right? Wrong. It’s very believable. So many sexual offences go unreported, or victims are made to feel that their case is not ‘authentic enough’ and this needs to change. This show is so important and is a steppingstone for the future, not only for victims to realise that they are not alone and shouldn’t be afraid to fight for justice, but also for the criminal justice system. It, sometimes, merely takes some patience and compassion to find the guilty. Unbelievable is what justice really looks like.

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual abuse and in need of support, then please ask for help. The University offers the Counselling Service, Mental Health Support Team, Departmental Wellbeing Support, Nightline and the Medical Centre. Alternatively, external support can be just as effective. Here’s a link to a list of helplines: https://www.itv.com/thismorning/rape-helplines.

For further support please contact LSU Welfare & Diversity: welfareeo@lsu.co.uk

Office for National Statistics (2019) Available at: https://www.ons.gov.uk/.

Featured image by Frankie Stevens.


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