So I binge watched Unbelievable (with some exceptions that I’ll tell you) on Saturday, and I was very impressed.
I had another post all scheduled to go for today, but I wanted to tell you about this show because it’s a new one and everyone’s talking about it, and I wanted to jump in and offer my two cents.
Unbelievable is based on a true-life case about an 18-year-old girl who was charged with filing a false rape report, and fined, only to be vindicated 3 years later when the rapist was caught in a different state, with evidence linking to her.
The mini-series was based on a Pulitzer-prize winning expose article from The Marshall Project: An Unbelievable Story of Rape. In 2008, in Lynnwood, Washington, 18-year-old Marie Adler (not her real name) called the police saying that a stranger had broken into her home while she was asleep, and raped her on and off for several hours. When the police came, she was flustered, and she changed some details in different statements. Her former foster mother told police that she might just be seeking attention. And then, instead of interviewing her and taking her statement and trying to figure out what was done, and despite the fact that she had physical evidence on her body of scratches and fights, they grilled her on why she was lying.
She eventually said she was maybe dreaming to make them stop yelling at her. The next day, she tries to retract her retraction. They don’t let her, and eventually they charge her with a misdemeanor crime, make her appear in court and plead guilty, and fine her.
Three years later, a female detective in Golden, Colorado is called to an apartment building where a 22-year-old woman has just reported a stranger breaking in while she was asleep, raping her on and off for hours, and then making her shower.
He takes all of the sheets, comforters, etc., and leaves nothing behind with any DNA. The female detective, Karen Duvall, is so gentle with her, but persistent. She respects the victim, she treats her with dignity, she really is in all ways wonderful.
She’s also very frustrated by the case, because there’s so little crime scene evidence. She talks to her husband, who is a police officer in a neighbouring jurisdiction, about the crime, and he mentions that they had one just like it. So the next morning Detective Duvall shows up on Detective Grace Rasmussen’s doorstep, and the two of them team up to eventually catch this guy.
Unbelievable portrayed faith in an amazing way
I have rarely seen movies or miniseries do this, and I’ve actually seen Netflix being very anti-faith, so I was so impressed (and surprised!). Karen Duvall is portrayed as being a very strong Christian (as apparently the real detective is).
You see this for the first time when the victim is in the car with her, and they’re driving to the hospital. Amber (the victim) looks down, and on the dashboard is a sticky note with the words:
Here am I. Send me.
Amber (and by the way, this actress did an AMAZING job, too), asks what it means.
Karen thinks for a minute–you can see she’s trying to decide how much to divulge–and then she says something like (I’m going from memory):
It’s from Isaiah. The world is really messed up, kind of like it is today, and God is looking for people who will do something about it. And Isaiah says, Here I am, send me.
And that’s what you see from Karen for the rest of the mini-series. She’s very compassionate, but she’s also extremely professional, and even hard on the cops under her when she feels they’re not doing their jobs well. She’s absolutely dedicated to justice. She’s a great mom. But she also really struggles with her frustration when they can’t find the guy.
You see her and her family in church. And one day Amber shows up in church, too, and Karen seeks her out, just to talk.
Grace Rasmussen, the other detective, often makes fun of Karen’s faith, which Karen takes in stride. But at the very end, Grace even admitted that for the first time in a long time that morning she had said a prayer. It was a prayer rather laced with profanity, but it was still an honest prayer.
The dichotomy between the two detectives was quite stark.
Karen is dedicated, by the book, compassionate, and steady. Grace is a firecracker, always doing things you don’t expect, not explaining herself, and getting very, very angry. She’s the senior detective, the one with all the experience. And she swears a TON. LIke a TON. I can’t stress that enough. If you can’t handle swearing, please don’t watch this show. At the same time, you can tell that the reason she swears is just the sheer awfulness of what they’re dealing with.
At one point, the two detectives are talking and Grace says, “I don’t know how you can believe in God when all of this is happening.”
And Karen replies, “I don’t know how you get through all of this without God.” And they leave it at that. And it’s suggesting to the viewer, I think, that Karen’s view is the right one.
The dichotomy between the two detectives in Colorado and the detectives in Washington was just heartbreaking and infuriating and I couldn’t watch it.
Grace and Karen treated their victims so well, even though Grace’s victim had holes in her memory in the same way that Marie Adler had. They cared for their victims. To say that Marie Adler’s detectives re-traumatized her would be an understatement.
And to be frank, I couldn’t watch it. Perhaps, had it not been based on a true story, I would have watched it. But knowing that Marie is a real person, a real girl who grew up in foster care, who had been repeatedly abused as a child, and then, when she reported a night-long terrifying rape, she was told she was the problem–I couldn’t do it. The miniseries was shown in two timelines–what happened with Marie after the rape, and the investigation three years later in Colorado. Every time Marie came on, I skipped to the next Colorado scene. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. I’m still tearing up that anyone could be treated like that.
Please, in the comments to this, let’s not get into a discussion about false rape reports, okay? I absolutely know they happen (I’ve had some happen in my immediate circle), but I also know that they are very, very rare. And in this case, she did have bruises and scrapes. There was no reason for the police to disbelieve her. It was just a travesty.
The frustration that Grace and Karen felt about how the resources were allocated about rape and how violence against women was treated was very palpable.
In the series, they at first thought the perpetrator was a police officer because the scenes had been cleaned of DNA. So they spent quite a while focusing on cops. Apparently there are studies that show that 40% of police officers are domestic abusers. They asked the question, “what if it came out that 40% of female officers abused their kids? They’d be fired in an instant.” But you can be a cop even if your wife has a restraining order against you because you’ve beaten her up. It’s not right.
That’s not to say that all cops are abusers, so let’s not go there in the comments, either, okay? And I do believe that police forces will have an increasingly difficult time attracting quality applicants when there is so much animosity towards police officers, as there is today, so I understand that things are in a catch-22.
But like Grace said when she was so angry (and I teared up about this), “Where’s the outrage that all these women are getting raped?” They’re getting helped by the FBI, and the senior FBI officer is honestly helping (though it doesn’t always seem like that), and Karen is trying to calm her down. But Grace just asks, “Where’s the outrage?” It’s the only time she really loses it in the show, and you can see that for the whole series both she and Karen are trying to keep the lid on their emotions.
Yet just for a minute, her guard goes down. “Where’s the outrage?”
That’s really the question the whole mini-series is asking.
“Where’s the outrage?” Where’s the outrage that Marie could be treated like that? Where’s the outrage that women whose husbands beat them up have little recourse but a restraining order, which basically does nothing? Where’s the outrage that there are not better computer systems and tracking systems to find rapists like this one? Where’s the outrage that so many police departments handled their rape cases so badly, and that the rapist could have been caught earlier if people had just done their jobs?
After this series airs, I think there will be some outrage. It was just really well done.
They do catch the guy, by the way.
And when they do, they find pictures of all of his victims, including one they don’t recognize–Marie Adler. He has a copy of her driver’s license photographed on her torso. So the detectives reach out to the Lynnwood police department, telling him they’ve solved a crime in his jurisdiction. The Lynnwood detective assures them that Marie was making it all up, so she asks for his email, and sends him the pictures.
He’s devastated. He goes and finds Marie at work and gives her a cheque for $500, the fine that she had had to pay. She later hires a lawyer and sues the city, but settles for $150,000 (her lawyer wanted to press for more) because she just wants it over with. Apparently she’s now married, with two children, and living in a different state. She has a good life now, and I’m glad. I wish her all the best.
I couldn’t help feeling some parallels to what is happening today in the church with abuse.
After watching the series, I got in a big funk. Not because of the series itself, but because of how it reminded me of how the church is handling abuse today, and how so much abuse is being swept under the rug. It brought up my frustration and–I finally admitted this to myself this weekend–my extreme grief that Focus on the Family has not cared about the fact that Love & Respect, which bears their logo and which they recommend, has enabled abuse. Despite the huge report I sent them, despite repeated emails and twitter threads, they have said nothing. They haven’t cared. The voices of women who are being abused do not matter.
But now, I have had others reach out to me in the last month telling me that Focus on the Family counselors have told them to return to abusive husbands once those husbands have “repented” (really bad advice, because love bombing is a normal part of the abuse cycle). I have learned that Focus on the Family says you can’t divorce in cases of abuse, only separate for a time. For years I have been recommending Focus on the Family . I am so, so grieved by that now. What did I send them to? Please, please forgive me. I didn’t know.
And I’m just so very, very sad. I actually think it is grief. Because this was my tribe. I trusted them. I thought they were good. I was on their radio show three times!
And to see them doing this to women is just sometimes more than I can bear emotionally.
I feel as if so many churches and organizations are doing to abused women what those initial detectives did to Marie. They grill her. They’re antagonistic. And eventually they make it into her fault. They tell her to admit her guilt (“did you not submit enough? What did you do to provoke him? Did you not respect him?”). And they leave her unsupported.
This is not how it is supposed to be. This is not Jesus.
Jesus is there, looking at His church, asking a simple question, “Where is the outrage?”
And I am here, replying, “Here I am. Send me.”
Have you watched Unbelievable yet? What did you think? Does any of this resonate with you? Let’s talk in the comments!
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