Everyone’s raving about Netflix’s Unbelievable, and with good reason

Kaitlyn Dever plays the role of Marie Adler in Netflix's Unbelievable
Afroze Fatima Zaidi

Warning: this article discusses sexual assault and contains content some readers may find triggering.

A few days ago, I read an article in The Canary about a drop in prosecutions for rape in the UK. It talked about the reasons for this drop, and how it meant an ‘effective decriminalisation’ of rape. It didn’t make for an easy read, particularly for me, a survivor of sexual assault.

Coming across Netflix’s new show Unbelievable, which looks at how local authorities in the US investigate rape cases, so soon after reading the article, therefore, felt a little serendipitous. The show has debuted to rave reviews online, and they are all justified:

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What Unbelievable meant for me

I could talk at length about the many reasons why Unbelievable is excellent. The performances alone are breathtaking. The depiction of trauma is harrowing yet, at the same time, shows a great deal of sensitivity towards the survivors. Particularly when we consider that the series is based on true events, and these are real people. While watching, I felt the same lump in my throat that appeared when I had read that article about rape prosecutions only the day before:

But what struck me most about Unbelievable, as someone who reported being raped a long time after it had happened, was the familiarity of Marie’s experience. Having to deal with a series of well-meaning but sceptical police officers. Having to repeat her account, and effectively relive the trauma, with every new person she spoke to. And eventually becoming jaded by a system that should be working to bring justice to victims like her, but isn’t.

The officer I finally spoke to asked me repeatedly if I was pressing charges for ‘the right reasons’. If I was sure this was really the route I wanted to go down. If I wasn’t doing it because of pressure from someone else. He said that the assailant’s lawyer would drag my personal life through court to cast doubt on my character. That the defence would make it look like I had come forward after all this time because I was ‘seeking revenge’ with made-up allegations. Of course, my story is not identical to Marie’s, but it’s similar enough for me to know exactly why she felt like the system didn’t take her seriously.

What Unbelievable means for women

It’s clear to see from the response online that the show has struck a chord with women in the US and beyond:

Unbelievable also effectively answers the question often posed to victims of sexual assault: why didn’t you report it?

Moreover, and quite importantly, the show has cast a light on the systemic issues which become barriers to justice for rape survivors:

A message of hope

Unlike many other shows in the genre, however, Unbelievable is more than just gut-wrenching trauma porn. Probably the best thing about it, and what makes it stand out from other TV and film depictions of rape trauma, is its message of enduring hope:

The humanisation of the women who are depicted in the series is one of its greatest achievements. We get to see these women, and empathise with them, as complete human beings. This means that rather than just being a searing indictment of systemic failures in law enforcement when it comes to investigating rape, Unbelievable is also about survival. It’s about how women deal with, and move on from, debilitating trauma. And its message that healing is possible for these women is probably its biggest triumph.

Featured image via YouTube/ Netflix

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    1. I’m not here being an apologist for bad policing, however I feel that there is generally a habit of ignoring facts that are inconvenient, when trying to raise the profile of certain issues like rape, and rape prosecutions.

      Given that UK Police have had their numbers slashed substantially, and that the Police Service is badly understaffed, trained, directed, and supported (a deliberate Tory policy to replace good policing and judiciary with broken versions in order to control us more viciously), is it not the case that these figures are a sign of the overall effects of introducing Austerity (after deliberately robbing the Nation), and as a direct result of the Tory destruction of our infrastructure, laws, and more?

      I can’t help but think that the reason rape prosecutions have gone down, whilst rapes reported has gone up, is a sign of the general poor state of ALL our Nation’s services, mostly due to Austerity, and also down to deliberate government policy to distract us from their own Machiavellian plans.

      I agree that it is a travesty that some rape victims are treated the way they are, not just by the rapists, but by the system too. However, this is a thorny, problem-laden issue, which is not as simple as ‘just believing them’ or as the #metoo movement seem to suggest.

      On the face of it, no perpetrator of rape should go unpunished, and no victim of rape should be further traumatised by an apparently careless system and people.

      However, whilst there are victims who have been raped, there are also victims who have done no raping, but are falsely accused of having done so. There should be no down-playing of either issue, and just as numbers of rape increase in Austerity for a number of reasons, so do the incidents of false-allegations of rape.

      Given that these are facts, it seems to me that whilst no-one should be silent about what was done to them, there seems to be growing consensus that all allegations of rape should be believed, and the MSM, ‘The Mob’, or both together, not the Law, should decide the guilt or innocence (though the accused-innocent rarely receive the attention they out to).

      Whilst I agree that every effort must be made to protect victims of rape, and support them, there is also a very great need to protect those who have been falsely accused of, who like many rape victims won’t report the crime because they are even less likely to be listened to by anyone.

      Personally I think the answer, as unpopular as it may first seem, is relatively easy, particularly given that modern society demands we give up privacy anyway, and we already have the need, and the technology to accomplish it.

      Essentially we must record our lives in a legally accepted format. I would suggest that recording in a fully contextual, provably unmodified format, is perhaps the ONLY solution attainable presently. The only real objection I can see is that people do not want their mistakes or downright lies and deception to be made public, they want to be able to lie and get away with their crimes more than they want protection from crime.

      I suggest that we all are required to have and wear a life-recorder (video and audio) from birth, which only an investigating legal authority (investigating an alleged crime) may have access to, for the purposes of crime prosecution and innocence verification. That is to say, that no-one, not even the carrier/wearer of these devices may open or change anything, and that by law we must all wear and maintain these devices.

      No government, no corporation or business, no friend or foe, literally the only ones with access to these devices would be Judicial authorities and ONLY if investigating facts of guilt or innocence. These devices would never be used for anything other than the stated and intended purpose, and as such would become a silent witness that can be trusted beyond even what a human may attain.

      I argue that despite the fact that there is no such thing as unbreakable security, and as these devices feasibly have no need to be connected to anything (wireless, bluetooth, cellular, L.A.N. etc), and would be constructed in such a way as to be tamper-proof, that they would be still much better than what we are used to, namely, he-said-she-said evidence, and very intrusive personal violations just to get to the truth.

      These recording devices would be a legal duty (to ourselves as well as society) to wear at all times, but would have no tracking capability except between the owner and device, and would make crime harder, and crime solving easier. They would not have to be an Orwellian surveillance device, but in reality a friend and a deterrent against false accusations. I am sure some people would try, and maybe succeed in breaking or in creating some illegal activity involving these devices, but that could be kept on top of by changing (as needed) the way the device operates, and other methods to keep them secure.

      The device does not need to be cumbersome, intrusive, visible, or inconvenient to wear, and there are several options for storage of that data, either temporarily over a set period of time, or permanently, and though storing data in DNA is a new thing, that technology may provide all the storage room than a lifetime of images and sound would ever need.

      OK so I have waded into a rape-related story which is a difficult subject for many to discuss (for me too as I was a child-victim of sexual abuse that never got reported, as well as having been accused in very damaging ways, of things I have never done, though not rape thankfully), I hope that it will be taken in the spirit my opinion is offered, that of one looking for a more practical, risk-reducing strategy and options for all, not to wind up or annoy those who have already suffered, or are still suffering.

      Rape is a violent crime, and so is bearing false witness, both do irreparable damage to lives, and even if they are recoverable from, that is not a guarantee of recovery. Some things that happen scar for life. We need a much better solution than outing people in social media, or trying to rely on people (the Police for example) who weren’t there at the time, and are arguably being deliberately undermined themselves by Governments and Corporate interests.

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