Netflix’s ‘Unbelievable’ successfully tackles stigmas surrounding survivors of sexual assault

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TRIGGER WARNING: MENTIONS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT


In September, Netflix released
“Unbelievable,” a show based on a true story that lives up to its title in more ways than one. However, one should watch it with caution as there are sensitive themes throughout. 

The story begins in Washington with 18-year-old, former foster child Marie Adler (played by Kaitlyn Dever), who after being sexually assaulted at knife-point, tells her story to the officers at the scene. From the start, the officers doubt Marie’s story and ask her to describe the situation over and over again, traumatizing her even more. 

The cops assigned to her case end up convincing her to admit that she made up the assault and tell her that she needs to write a new statement saying she lied about it. Eventually, she is charged for filing a false report.

At times, the viewer is confused and almost upset with how Marie is handling the situation. We know that the assault happened so why did she lie? How could she let someone convince her something didn’t happen? While upsetting, it is one of the most important messages that the show communicates. 

Not everyone handles trauma the same way and we cannot disregard the things a survivor says just because they are having a hard time coming to terms with what happened to them. 

The show allows the audience to empathize with Marie by fully displaying her thoughts, emotions and reactions to every difficult situation she is put in. Through flashbacks to her childhood and the assault itself, we know that she is constantly struggling to overcome horrible things that happened in her life. 

After being mistreated and manipulated in the foster care system for so many years, it is not surprising that when two men in a position of power are telling her she is wrong, she backs down. 

The show is overall well put together but it seems disjointed at times. The show bounces back and forth between Marie’s story and that of two female detectives working to solve multiple sexual assault cases in another state. 

Though the correlation of the two narratives can get confusing at times, the producers do a great job of slowly connecting the stories to show the audience that they are intertwined for tragic reasons.

“Unbelievable” really is an unbelievable story filled with so much injustice and heartbreak that it is almost hard to get through. However, the messages are extremely important and the creators successfully showed how doubting survivors in situations like this can only lead to more emotional trauma. 

It asks the audience to consider Marie’s background and look at her choices with compassion and understanding. And while the show discusses the horrible realities of sexual assault, it reassures us that healing is not impossible.