I have made many television, podcast, and other media recommendations in the past, but this is different. It’s important. I strongly believe that everyone should watch Netflix’s limited series, Unbelievable, about the true story of an 18-year-girl accused of lying about her rape and the two female detectives that investigate a series of rapes with a similar modus operandi. The series stars the inimitable Toni Collette and Merritt Wever as real-life Detectives Edna Hendershot and Stacy Galbraith, respectively, as well as Kaitlyn Dever, who plays Marie Adler. Marie a pseudonym for one of the true victims of this serial rapist who was active in both Washington State and Colorado.
This series is heartbreaking, infuriating, and highly informative with an outstanding ensemble cast including Toni Collette and Merritt Wever. Wever brings understated energy to Detective Karen Duvall; she is the vitality of the investigation with her quiet anger, empathy, and steady leadership. She, partnered with Collette’s more seasoned and cynical Detective Grace Rasmussen, give viewers the most empowered female duo since Thelma and Louise. Don’t worry; they’re not vigilantes but they have the same exciting grit and tenacity of Sarandon and Davis.
As a woman, these are the detectives I would want to be out there chasing bad guys. As Rasmussen demands in frustration at one point in the series, “Where is their outrage?”. She is referring to the even-keeled demeanor of their male counterparts when exploring different angles of the investigation. This is a question asked many times in this series. Where is the outrage? Why are women not believed?
Though the show makes it easy to celebrate these very human lead detectives as champions for justice, we also must bear witness to abhorrent mistakes by the institutions meant to protect people like Marie. Marie was put into the foster care system at a very young age and unfortunately, but not surprisingly, dealt with physical and sexual abuse. She does her best to move forward and we first meet her when she is living in an apartment complex subsidized by a non-profit that assists individuals transitioning out of the foster care system into the real world. It is in this apartment complex that she is threatened by a man in a mask in the middle of the night, tied with her own shoelaces, raped of the course of three or four hours, and photographed before being told she should be more careful and lock her windows.
The two male detectives that investigate the crime scene have little DNA evidence; the rapist used a condom and wore gloves. And yet, after one of Marie’s former foster mother’s contacts them about her doubts and Marie’s dubious behavior, the whole investigation shifts from the rape incident to Marie’s credibility. She is ultimately bullied and coerced into a confession that she lied about her assault. She is subsequently charged with false reporting, ordered to pay $500 towards legal fees, undergo mandatory counseling, and remain on probation. Throughout this ordeal, she has lost her job, all of her friends, and is the victim of threats and online bullying.
What I took away from this show was that there simply is no “normal” way to cope with trauma. Marie may have behaved strangely to her foster mothers after the fact. She may have vacillated on the details of her story. But I still must ask; why is there inherent disbelief of female victims? The system failed Marie over and over again. Fortunately, in the show and real life, she received the vindication she deserved but at an enormous cost. Denver’s portrayal of Marie should be mentioned; she maintains a tiny flame of dignity and strength throughout her ordeals. It is nearly extinguished by the ones that were meant to protect her, but ultimately, Detectives Rasmussen and Duval restore Marie’s faith in humanity.
After watching the series (and believe me you’ll binge it) listen to the Anatomy of a Doubt episode on This American Life‘s podcast detailing Marie’s case. While we hear sincere remorse from one of the male detectives that botched her case, we still get victim-blaming from one of her awful foster moms, Peggy Cunningham. She refuses to take responsibility that she put in motion the destruction of Marie’s life. I am truly outraged about it. Watch, listen, do your research. This is a true story. Share your thoughts below. And believe women.
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