Netflix’s ‘Unbelievable’ Is The Wake Up Call We Need To End Rape Culture

September 18, 2019

Content warning: sexual assault.

In 2008, Marie Adler was woken by a masked intruder breaking into her apartment before she was repeatedly raped for hours. After violating her and taking photos, the attacker left Marie with deeply rooted and permanent trauma, as well as the nightmare of reporting sexual assault.

She was assaulted once by her attacker and again by the US justice system.

Marie’s story is a difficult one to watch. It’s the focus of Netflix’s new series, ‘Unbelievable‘, which puts a mirror to rape culture and reflects our obsession with victim-blaming. It provides a startling look into rape culture and urges us all to do better by victims of sexual assault.

Investigators forced her to relive the assault upwards of four times, pounding her for details and ignoring her obviously overwhelmed and traumatized state. They treated her like they would treat a suspect accused of a crime, not a victim of sexual assault.

They treated her like she wasn’t human – because to them, she was just an inconvenience.

When an investigator struggled to put the pieces together, he coerced Marie to change her story. It was easier to believe that she was fabricating the assault than it was to call this what it is – rape.

The detectives found it so hard to believe Marie because she wasn’t the ‘perfect victim’. She didn’t curl up in a ball or fall to pieces – she tried hard to forget the harrowing details of her assault and as a result, was put on trial for her own rape.

She was convicted of a crime and fined $500 for her ‘false reporting’ in an effort to keep the legal system safe and effective. If this isn’t enough to make your skin crawl, you’re not paying attention.


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Society as whole looks for reasons to not believe sexual assault survivors instead of gathering evidence to convict the rapist. This notion is institutionalized in the Western legal system and it lets serial rapists like Marie’s attacker get away with it.

The investigation in “Unbelievable” is confronting and often difficult to watch. Based on true events, as documented by The Marshall Project’s ‘An Unbelievable Story Of Rape’, the details are far too gruesome to fabricate.

I had to step away for air more times than I can count while watching because of the intensity of the show – but sexual assault survivors don’t have the luxury of checking out when things get confronting, and we shouldn’t either.

This story is gutwrenching and hard because it needs to be.

As a society, we perpetuate a culture that allows rapists to continue assaulting and shows like ‘Unbelievable’ force you to look survivors dead in the eye.

The reality is that one in five women are victims of sexual violence.

This series isn’t some far-fetched crime thriller.

This isn’t ‘unbelievable, this is real life.

This is why women leave their homes with keys and pepper spray. This is why so many don’t make it home.

Unbelievable‘ shows us the many ways that the justice system fails survivors of sexual assault and the harrowing consequences when we don’t believe victims.

Sure, the rapist might get some years in prison (in those cases where the system actually works), but that isn’t enough to heal the trauma of his invasion of multiple women’s bodies. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

The system allowed these assaults to occur, and even if it had taken appropriate measures to catch the attacker, he probably just would have gotten probation.

Skepticism literally ruins lives.

The blatant disbelief Marie faced with her story makes us all confront the reason behind sexual assault underreporting; we don’t as harshly question victims of theft, carjacking or even common assault, yet for some reason (despite our social perpetuation of violence against women), we don’t believe victims of sexual assault.


Because it’s easier for us to distrust a woman than it is to accept (typically) male culpability of rape.

To deal with the overwhelming instances of sexual violence would mean we actually have to convict rapists and for whatever reason, we care more about the reputations and repercussions for the rapist than we care about the safety of victims and women in general.

‘Unbelievable’ disguises itself as a true-crime series to draw in all demographics before schooling us all on how we can do better by sexual assault survivors – because let’s face it, we need to do better.

‘Unbelievable’ does a lot right.

There is no glorification of sexual violence. There is no hiding from the pain and trauma that haunts the victims. Most importantly, there is close to no attention given to the rapist, and rightly so.

It’s a raw and honest recount of an actual case. It shows us what could happen to us if we allow our cultural attitude towards women to continue.

We never think this kind of thing will happen to us, until it does.

Women deserve to live in a world where we aren’t constantly afraid of sexual attack. Both female and male victims of sexual assault deserve to be believed.

If you are a sexual assault survivor, this might not be a show that you want to watch.

You already have more of an understanding of the injustice and trauma of rape than anyone else. This show is designed to be so confronting so as to help people who haven’t experienced it to better understand the flaws in the system and the damage of rape culture.

It forces people to open their eyes to the horror that is rape culture and it’s the wake-up call we needed to make it stop.

This isn’t unbelievable, this is real life.

Featured image via unsplash.com

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Join the discussion: Have you watched ‘Unbelievable’? What did you think?

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