I heard the hype surrounding the Netflix series before I learned of this book’s existence. Because of my belief in the almost universal truth that “the book was better”, I wanted to make sure I knew the facts first. And facts were what I learned.
I got the who, the what, the when, the why and the how, but I didn’t always get the emotion behind them. I expected to ugly cry my way through this book but for some reason (I’m still unsure if this is a personal failing or due to the investigative nature of the writing) most of my emotions remained at arm’s length the majority of the time.
I was infuriated by the way Marie was actively disbelieved and accused of making up her rape by the police and most of the people in her life. I was incensed every single time another woman was brutally raped after Marie was because these traumas were not inevitable; if only someone had taken Marie seriously the man who raped her may well have been apprehended before any other woman woke up to find him in their bedroom.
On March 18, they arrived – two years, seven months, and one week after Marie had been raped.
Survivors of sexual assault should be assured that they are believed, that the assault it was not their fault, that they’re not alone and help is not only available, but deserved. Marie lived for two years, seven months, and one week alone on her experience because almost everyone she told dismissed her, and even more infuriating, her story is not unique.
Extraordinary as Marie’s case was – a victim assaulted, then accused – others like it could be found around the country, reflecting, in some police departments, a dismissiveness toward reports of sexual violence that at times crossed into hostility.
My ugly cry though? It’s still right here waiting to be released, probably when my library buys the DVD of the Netflix series.
Interviews and documents described by the authors highlight how a lack of investigation, and indeed an outright dismissal of a victim’s story that resulted in them being charged with making a false statement, turned into an investigation that involved multiple police departments. How the act of not believing one victim can contribute to a perpetrator going on to violate numerous other victims. How the justice system can both fail victims and get it right. The importance of police attitudes toward sexual violence.
I learned a lot about the origins of the fear of false allegations (thanks a lot, Sir Matthew Hale, you [insert expletive of your choice here]) and how they have impacted society as a whole over time. I never knew the history of rape kits prior to reading this book, only the statistics surrounding how many collect dust rather than being tested. The wannabe criminal profiler in me pored over all of the details pertaining to the investigative processes. The pedantic in me needs to know what the Wretch contains and wants to learn cryptology so I can crack that specific code and assist in providing justice to anyone who’s affected by its contents.
While I was reading I kept thinking this story was the perfect example of police investigating gone both right and terribly wrong so I found the note from the authors at the end of the book fitting. The initial focus of T. Christian Miller’s reporting was “to profile an investigation done right”, whereas Ken Armstrong sought to “reconstruct an investigation gone wrong”.
While this story begins and ends with Marie, it is not only her story. It is also the story of Doris, Lilly, Sarah, Amber and countless others who have survived the “unbelievable”. Their resilience and courage are extraordinary. This book should be required reading for anyone even tangentially involved in the justice system.
Content warnings include descriptions of sexual assault.
If you need support or information relating to sexual assault, you can contact:
- RAINN (America) – http://www.rainn.org – chat online or call 800.656.HOPE
- 1800RESPECT (Australia) – http://www.1800respect.org.au – chat online or call 1800 737 732
You can also search for resources in over a hundred countries at:
- HotPeachPages – http://www.hotpeachpages.net
Please know that it was not your fault, you are not alone and I believe you. 💜
Once Upon a Blurb
On August 11, 2008, eighteen-year-old Marie reported that a masked man broke into her apartment near Seattle, Washington, and raped her. Within days police and even those closest to Marie became suspicious of her story. The police swiftly pivoted and began investigating Marie. Confronted with inconsistencies in her story and the doubts of others, Marie broke down and said her story was a lie – a bid for attention. Police charged Marie with false reporting, and she was branded a liar.
More than two years later, Colorado detective Stacy Galbraith was assigned to investigate a case of sexual assault. Describing the crime to her husband that night, Galbraith learned that the case bore an eerie resemblance to a rape that had taken place months earlier in a nearby town. She joined forces with the detective on that case, Edna Hendershot, and the two soon discovered they were dealing with a serial rapist: a man who photographed his victims, threatening to release the images online, and whose calculated steps to erase all physical evidence suggested he might be a soldier or a cop. Through meticulous police work the detectives would eventually connect the rapist to other attacks in Colorado – and beyond.
Based on investigative files and extensive interviews with the principals, Unbelievable is a serpentine tale of doubt, lies, and a hunt for justice, unveiling the disturbing truth of how sexual assault is investigated today – and the long history of skepticism toward rape victims.