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

Kaitlyn Dever plays the role of Marie Adler in Netflix's Unbelievable
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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:

Read on...

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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