Unbelievable

Men and the General Desensitization to Sexual Assault

To say I was surprised by the short series “Unbelievable,”  would be an understatement. This show had revealed the ins and outs of working a rape case from the police side as well as the victim’s. Some of it was hard to watch, and hard to handle, but other parts of it were powerful and brave, and revelaed the amount of strength secxual assault victims have, and will have to have for the rest of their lives. But the key thing I noticed in this show and wanted to talk about is the correlation between men, in the police force as well as regular people, and their treatment and view of sexual assault cases. 

At the beginning of the show, a young girl Marie, had just become a victim of sexual assault. She rightfully called the police right after, and the investigation process began immediately. I counted that she had to recall what happened and make her statement six times to the male detectives working her case. It became apparent that every time she told the story again, they believed it less and less; to the point where they coerced her into lying about it and saying the assault didn’t happen all together. This young girl, who just had a tragedy happen to her, is rushed into recalling as many details as possible from something so scarring and probable to being blocked out of her psyche. Being physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, it would be easy to see just how some details get left out or changed in each recalling of the assault, yet the detectives were so quick to pick apart her story and see some of the inconsistencies without considering why that might be, other than she is lying. Their disbelief of the victim’s story and their quickness to say she is lying instead of seeing her inconsistencies for what they were, a response to trauma, shows that there is a level of desensitization to sexual assault and the stories of the victims. 

After the first episode, the show transitions between Marie’s story and the story of two female detectives cracking down on the serial rapist who also happens to be the rapist that attacked Marie. In pursuit of the serial rapist, they investigate past cases of sexual assault, and speak to those victims for details they might not have remembered from when it first happened. One  of the women they went back to talk to was visibly hostile towards the detectives because nothing had come out of her case which was filed an entire year before. It was when she worked with the female detectives that new evidence of a large knife, which he threatened her with during the assault, was discovered in her garden. Why was it that nothing had come out of this woman’s case, yet there was undiscovered evidence lying around in her front yard? There was an obvious lack of effort from the detective on this case, because like the detectives who worked on Marie’s case, the detective didn’t believe what happened to her because of her questionable lifestyle. The detective on this case was a man. The similarities between the male detectives and their judgements and decisions to not believe the female sexual assault  victim is uncannily similar. It is apparent that these detectives have a preceding thought complex when it comes to sexaul assault cases and the trustworthiness of the victims. Now, there sadly is a level of validity to their suspicions and thought complexes because of the unfortunate cases where women purposely lie about being sexually assaulted, for whatever reason it might be. One moment in the show that kind of shocked me, before I realized there was a hint of truth in it was when the female detectives brought in a male suspect for questioning and he said to them, “It happens all the time now. Girls making these claims. It’s a thing. There’s a status to being a victim.” While yes, this sadly can be a fact, it should be viewed and categorized as what it is, a rarity, rather than the normal. It is the women who have truly experienced rape or any form of sexual assualt that suffere from the fake claims made. When people believe that there are more and more women faking something so horrible happening to them, it causes people to be less sensitive to the topic and to those who truly suffer from it. 

Although I made the correlation to men being desensitized from rape crimes, there is a general numbing to sexaul assault crimes because they happen so oftern. The fact that there is a level of normalcy to this crime is shameful. It was said in the show by the FBI detective, that rape cases are not given the same time and energy as other casses, which is sad. A crime is a crime, and the police officers and detectives who put on their badge and uniform everyday, living out the oath they made, promising to protect people and fight for justice, should apply to all crimes.  Law enforcement agencies are predominately run by men, and can be a factor as to why sexual assault cases aren’t given the time and attention they deserve. I think this show was insightful, powerful, and displayed a true depiction of how impactful sexaul assault can be in a person’s life, victim or authority working the case. I know for me personally, this has truly heightened my awareness of the depth of the struggles assault victims face, and I can only hope it has done the same for viewers everywhere to take any this desestimacion that has occured in our society.  

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.