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Netflix's Newest True Crime Series 'Unbelievable' Investigates a Rape Case

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

On Wednesday, Netflix released the trailer for its latest true crime series. Titled “Unbelievable,” it will show viewers what it’s like to experience sexual assault and then report, only to not be believed. The show’s first episode premieres in New York on Friday and will be available on Netflix beginning Sept. 13.

“Unbelievable” follows teenager Marie Adler (Kaitlyn Dever), who grew up in the foster system and lives in housing for at-risk young people. She reports being raped but the detectives initially in charge of the case question her story, and eventually, even her foster mothers are skeptical. Marie recants. Two female detectives, Karen DuVall (Merritt Weaver) and Grace Rasmussen (Toni Colette), however, work to solve the case and get to the truth.

The series is based on a true story of an 18-year-old woman, middle name Marie, who was raped in 2008. She reported the case to police but recanted after male investigators questioned her account. She was charged with filing a false report in 2009. In 2011, two female detectives states away picked the case back up and caught Marie’s rapist. Marie’s story was told in a Pulitzer Prize-winning article published in ProPublica in 2015 and later featured in an episode of “This American Life.”

The Netflix version of events are fictional, but the investigation closely follows the real facts of Marie’s case, according to showrunner Susannah Grant. It also mirrors why so many survivors don’t report their sexual assault to authorities — they’re not believed. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, rape is the most underreported crime — 63% of assaults are not reported. Very few of those reported results in prosecution of the perpetrator.

Grant told Refinery 29 it was important to her to portray the reality of reporting sexual assault for rape survivors. She said they filmed Marie’s assault and experiences so the viewer sees what she sees, the blurred confusion and dissociation that occur during a traumatic event. Grant said she hopes it’s a meaningful way to help those who doubt trauma survivors get a better idea what survivors go through.

“There a couple of things you hear said about the process of reporting a rape. One is that the investigation feels like a second assault. And you also hear that the process of going through the kit also feels like an assault,” Grant told Refinery29. “Rather than just accept that, we really wanted to break that down and communicate that on a more visceral level, so you can experience why that’s true in an emotional way.”

Netflix released the series trailer on Wednesday, which shows pieces of Marie’s story, from assault to the male detectives who dismissed her claims to the two female detectives as they work the case and interview witnesses and another survivor.

“They just kept asking me the same question, ‘How come your story doesn’t add up?’” Marie says in the trailer. “Even with people that you can trust, if the truth is inconvenient, they don’t believe it.”

If you’re a survivor of sexual assault, “Unbelievable” may be triggering, so take good care of yourself if you want to watch. And as Mighty contributor and sexual assault survivor Vanna Winters wrote, whatever your journey as a survivor has been, you are not alone:

Regardless of whether you were blamed, shamed and overcame it all to report: you are brave. If no one believed you or was willing to listen: you are courageous. If your attacker was prosecuted or walks free: you are strong.

To anyone that has kept their story a tightly guarded secret: I see you and the strength it takes to hold on.  If you never found the safety to speak to your pain you are still just as brave and courageous.

As survivors we are many things; strong, fearless, heroic. But never alone.

The first of eight episodes of “Unbelievable” will premiere on Friday during 51Fest in New York and the series will be available for streaming on Netflix starting Sept. 13.

Header image via Netflix

Originally published: July 19, 2019
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