Girl Power

I had already watched this entire tv show before it was a choice for this prompt which was exciting as I knew I could now have a reason to rewatch this amazing show and dig deeper into the meaning. Although this was a gruesome watch, in the end displayed an important message of empowerment, something I didn’t notice when I watched it the first time around.

This show begins to explain the all too common issue our country faces everyday of serial rapists walking the streets freely. The viewers are first put into the show by being told and shown that a young troubled girl, Marie, gets raped by a masked man in her apartment. After clear signs of her being uncomfortable and scared, it seems as if she is almost coerced into retracting her statement by two male detectives as her stories and past are a little off putting. At this point, they completely shove Marie to the side and even charge her with false statements, something she could go to jail for. Immediately, the audience understands the dramatic irony being played out as we have to watch the scene take place over and over again in Marie’s mind.

The most interesting aspect of this show to me was power in each female characters presence and motive. This is shown particularly when we are introduced to the two lead female detectives, Karen Duvall and Grace Rassmussen, begin to search for the same rapist, due to many separate incidences happening very close to them. We learn that within the system, rape cases are more often than not pushed to the side because of homicide cases, something a lot of people deem as more important or catastrophic. Although this is a common speculation in the real world also, rape victims, in most cases, seem to be more traumatized for the rest of their lives than those of the family and friends of homicide cases. Although this is not always true, there is still some accuracy behind this.

Finally, when many women are group together as all violated by the same man, the two powerful detectives work together to find the horrific man behind all of these twisted crimes. Although they are pushed to the side numerous times by different detectives, police officers, and FBI agents, all who are males, they continue on only to find many more victims of similar crimes.

We continue to hear about Marie’s story as although she is suffering through many criminal court system due to this false charge, she is put on probation and everything in her life begins to fall apart. The saddest part about this show is that it takes the last episode for anyone to even believe her. She tells her mandatory therapist that this all happened to her and other girls everywhere because “if the truth is inconvenient, […] they don’t believe it”. However, unknown to her at the time, there are two powerful and successful women trying to find her and give her the truth that no one wanted to believe.

Although this show and message is not trying to discredit every male presence that enters the plot, and that is not what they display. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of female intuition and what it means to do the right thing, even if it isn’t the most convenient or popular. Even after they have the man in custody it is found out that he may have many more pictures of victims on a hard drive that is password protected. Instead of truly caring about this issue, the state prosector gives up and acts like he almost doesn’t care because he is getting what he wants out of the charges.

In the end, The serial rapist is charged with the maximum sentence of 300+ years in prison and will never walk as a free man again. Just as important, he eventually asked to be interviewed to “explain himself” but requests a male interviewers as, ironically, “women make him uncomfortable”.

Although this show is a great display of powerful police work and the intuition of women, the most prominent theme of each episode is the strength within each victim, like Marie. Although these women will never be the same, they each have their own story to tell and life to carry on with. It takes an extraordinary person to be put in a horrific situation like this and come out stronger, and many women of this show did. As Marie was wronged for many things while in the system, she decides she will no longer just take what is given to her and decides to sue the state for these injustices. although they do not go to trial, she is given a great amount of settlement money that allows her to move on and leave her current life. She eventually talks to detective Duvall and explains that although his maximum sentence was great, and the money she recieved was needed, she confides in her that the most important part of everything was knowing that there were two women, from different parts of the country, looking out for her, when no one else was. This female power shown through this show was empowering and convincing and allowed the audience to feel a lot better than an everyday story usually would.

Policing and its impact on victims

The show Unbelievable, the mini-series detailing the true stories of a serial rapist, opens by presenting the sexual assault of the first victim, Marie Adler in rural Washington. Marie Adler was addressed by two male detectives, who first speak to her in a contradictory and repetitive manner. They collect evidence from the crime scene without Marie’s help and make her recount her statement multiple times there before taking her to the hospital. When inquiring about Marie, Detective Parker is told by her old foster mother essentially to not believe her, who states she seeks attention and has a troubled past. It is this attack on Marie’s credibility which acts as a catalyst for the detectives to abruptly and completely not believe her. After this conversation, the aggressive tone of the detectives is only amplified and Marie is pressured into saying she was lying.

This depiction of the two male detectives is foiled by the characters of the two female detectives. When the next victim, Amber, is raped in Colorado, Detective Duvall has a procedure she follows and explains to the victim, highlighting the discrepancies between her investigation and the male detectives’. Her investigation includes swabbing the face of the victim, walking her back through the crime scene, speaking to her in private etc. She is diligent about crime scene collection and making sure everything is done to collect as much evidence as possible within a timeframe that it is freshest. This discrepancy of the amount and quality of evidence collected is especially disheartening in the end, when the rapist reveals the most mistakes he made (in terms of leaving traces of DNA, etc.) occurred in Washington. Eventually, Detective Duvall makes a connection with a rape in another jurisdiction investigated by Detecive Rasmussen, and the two females move forward invesitgating together. 

After the decision to fully merge their investigations, Detective Rasmussen says to Detective Duvall “You’re gonna move over to my joint. It’s no offense but we’ve got better toys. We’re gonna bring in the FBI. We’re gonna bring in the CBI. We’re gonna exploit every goddamn resource available to us” (ep. 3). It is this quote that brought my attention to look at how the film portrays the gap between training, resources, and experience between the two pairs of detectives. Not only are the female detectives aware of various resources, seek them out, and employ them, the audience can recognize their specialization as a part of sex crime investigations. With Detective Duvall, her experience (even though she is less experienced out of the two) is implied in her familiarity with the nurses who examine victims, and describes them as being great at their jobs.  

The depiction of resources, experience, and specialized investigations is juxtaposed through cuts of scenes between them and the detectives of Marie Adler’s case. The visual imagery of the female pair’s department shows its breath of resources and specialization: the detectives have their own workspace, a detailed crime lab, available personal, and advanced technology. This is contrasted by the department of the male detectives. They are not specialized in sex crimes investigations and seem to lack in resources in terms of both technology and forensics. It is this juxtaposition though that is exacerbated by the male detectives conduct, which makes them individually responsible for various injustices.

It is the male detectives lack of their own self-awareness of their lack of experience coupled with their pride/ego which make them completely fail at their investigation. Rather than recognizing their own lack of experience in sex crimes and thus actively defining how they recognize rape through Marie, they instead deconstruct her story inaccurately based on their predispositions. Another Detective from a different district, Kirkland, calls this pair after a tip to collaborate based on the similar evidence of their two rapes. Instead of reopening the case and reevaluating their mistake, Detective Parker instead shuts him down by saying it was fabricated. An irony lies in the fact the very details and consistencies they found peculiar enough to disbelieve Marie’s story are the very details which form this connection. This shows Detective Parker’s inability to critically think about the investigation and his willingness to follow the misinformation. Unlike the female detectives who were willing to compare their cases, Detective Parker is not willing to look for evidence to corroborate Marie’s story and get justice for her. He only seeks to falsify it. In the end, it is his Hubris which ultimately causes the investigation to fail. However instead of causing their own downfall, it causes Marie’s. Not only does she not gain justice, they have the audacity to charge her with a crime of false reporting and never apologize. 

Alongside other things we have read in class, I find myself comparing these interpretations to George Orwell’s piece “The Courthouse Ring” and To Kill a Mockingbird. In a sense, I think a connection can be drawn between Tom Robinson and Marie Adler in an opposing yet parallel sense. Tom is innocent being charged with commiting sexual assault because of racial bias towards him. Marie is a sexual assault victim whose perpetrator won’t be prosecuted because of police bias towards her. Tom does not receive justice because of racism of the jurors and the sheriff; Marie does not receive justice because of the bias and misconceptions of the detectives’ and the stepmother’s notions about rape.

I also think it can be interesting to compare Marie Adler with Mayella Ewell, and what a comparison of someone lying and telling the truth about sexual assault can show about the treatment of female complainants. Orwell cites a scholar who critques Atticus’ goal “to expliot a virtual catalog of misconceptions and fallacies about rape, each one calculuated to heighten mistrust of the female complaintant” (TNY). Orwell argues that Atticus asserts Mayella “was so starved for sex that she spent an entire year scheming for a way to make it happen” which is “to swap one set of priveldges for another” (TNY). Orwell demonstrates that while it was appropriate to defend Tom, the construction of a defense based on misconceptions surronding what rape and feminity should look like harms actual victims. For Atticus, he believes Mayella should have been hit on the opposite side of her face and employs the ” ‘she wanted it’ defense” (TNY). For the male detectives and Marie’s step mother, details of the shoelace and knife seem unlikely. Moreover, her emotional response is not what they would anticipate it to be and believe it is a ploy for attention. Both show that the need to deconstruct misconceptions about how sexual assault is shown and reacted to. Without this change, conflations of lying with victimhood can continue occuring, harming true victims as they report crimes committed against their bodies.