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How It Feels to Watch Netflix's 'Unbelievable' as a Rape Survivor

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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 Friday, September 13, Netflix released “Unbelievable,” a limited series based on true events. Netflix doesn’t shy away from tackling tough subjects in compelling TV dramas. They have produced shows such as “12 Reasons Why,” “When They See Us” and more. In that fashion, “Unbelievable” tackles the story of a teenager who was accused of lying about her rape. With such a traumatic subject, the show no doubt is going to evoke emotions but personally, I was not prepared for how many.

• What is PTSD?

I want to say this before I go any further: please be safe while watching this show. If you have a history of a sexual abuse or any trauma, please consider watching with a loved one in a safe environment. This show deals not only with rape but also suicidal thoughts and actions.

Watching the very first episode was by far one of the most difficult TV watching experiences of my life. I spent an hour crying, screaming at the TV and curling in the fetal position willing it all to stop.

The show opens with police and detectives arriving to the scene of the main character’s apartment after receiving a 911 call. It picks up immediately with this girl sitting on the floor, covered only in a blanket.

The emotion is raw as the first police officer asks her to explain what happened. As she tells her story, we see flashbacks to what was happening. She is obviously in complete shock and not sure how to comprehend what happened to her. Moments later, a detective walks in and asks her to repeat the events. She immediately seems uncomfortable as she replies that she just told the officer. She is told that he just needs to hear it from her again.

Of course, that wasn’t the only time she was asked to repeat the story — not even close. When she gets to the hospital for the rape examination, the hospital needs her statement. Not once during any of this does anyone give her any words of validation or caring. The officer, detective and nurse are all business as they ask for these horrifying details. She is asked to give her statement again at the police station and then finally asked to write out her statement.

So within hours of being raped, she had to repeat the story at least 5 times. Each time, she becomes more disconnected. With each continued question, she is made to feel like she is the one being interrogated. At a time when she needs people to rally around her, listen and protect her, she is feeling more and more isolated.

Each time she tells the story, the detectives try to poke holes in it. Isn’t that the culture today? Society only believes the victim if there is physical evidence. Kaitlyn Dever does an amazing job at portraying the wide range of emotions that her character goes through over a short 24-hour period. Ultimately, the main character decides to take it all back just to not have to continue to live in this nightmare.

In episode two, another woman is raped by a stranger and the detective in that case is a woman who does everything she can to put the victim first. In stark contrast to the first event, this detective, officers and hospital staff come from a place of validation, compassion and listening. Even though both incidents of rape are by strangers who break in in the middle of the night, they are handled completely differently.

This series is based on a true story. Some of it is the work of fiction but you can listen to the podcast Anatomy of Doubt” about the actual incident. While this story deals with sexual abuse by a stranger, most sexual assaults are actually committed by someone the victim knows. Yet still, either way, most victims are not automatically believed. Society sees them as acting out for attention or trying to tarnish someone else’s life.

We should not have to live in a world where victims retract their story like in this incident. We should not live in a time when so many women feel unsafe. Heck, even men feel unsafe and that’s talked about less. They don’t just fear being assaulted, they fear how being assaulted changes them in the eyes of society.

I have only watched the first two episodes of this show and I do plan to finish it. I was compelled to share this article as soon as possible, though. I want people to know this is a genuine portrayal of what it feels like to be a victim; of what it feels like to be screaming at the top of your lungs underwater, where no one can hear you. The more society disbelieves, the more they turn the victim away. The more turned away a victim becomes, the more the trauma will take hold.

Please know that if you are a victim of sexual assault, you are not alone. If people make you feel ashamed, please remember that they don’t know your truth. You did not do anything wrong. Telling your story is brave. I know many people who can’t tell their story. Maybe they are too afraid and maybe they can’t process it. That is alright too. There is no right or wrong way to process trauma. I urge you to seek help from a medical and mental health professional. Help is out there and you do not have to go through this alone.

I’d love to hear if you have watched the show and if you felt as emotional as I did. It’s alright for us to talk about what this brings up for us. Please reach out to someone if you need help working through anything this show triggers for you.

Image via YouTube.

Originally published: October 1, 2019
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