I just finished watching the television series Unbelievable. It isn’t an easy drama to view but it is an important one. It tells a true story about a serial rapist who attacks a young girl in Washington and then a string of women in Colorado. He meets his match when two dogged female detectives literally work night and day and leave no stone unturned to try and find him and convict him.
Unbelievable teaches you a great deal about rape.
Police can interview victims in a way that makes them feel like their story isn’t believable or they can interview them in sensitive and respectful ways.
Although it shouldn’t make a difference, a woman’s past, her race, her age or even her occupation can have an impact on how seriously her rape claims are taken.
Men with military backgrounds and police backgrounds are checked first as possible suspects because they have a much higher rate of violent behaviour.
Police in one district don’t routinely share information about rapes with police in other districts. In Unbelievable the fact that detectives from two different districts work on finding a rapist together happens just as a matter of chance.
Rape changes a woman’s life forever. As the victims shared their stories in the trial during this series it didn’t matter whether they were box store workers or college students or grandmothers or career women the rapes devastated them, totally turned their lives upside down and left them vulnerable and afraid.
I kept thinking as I watched Unbelievable that a series like this should be mandatory viewing for judges and politicians. In 2017 former Conservative party leader Rona Ambrose introduced a bill in Parliament ensuring judges in Canada were trained in sexual-assault law. The bill required judges to learn about rape myths and stereotypes and how biases of race, gender and other social factors could influence their decisions.
Rona Ambrose worked in a rape crisis centre in university and that experience made her realize the need for such a bill. She found support across the political parties for her legislation. Her efforts were definitely seen as necessary after an Alberta judge told a sexual assault victim she should have” just kept her knees together” and after a Halifax judge said a woman can give consent even when she is drunk. Ms. Ambrose said responses like those discourage women from reporting rapes and laying charges.
Rona Ambrose’s bill was passed unanimously in the House of Commons but Senator Don Plett from Manitoba and some of his Conservative colleagues decided to stall it in the Senate for over 700 days so it didn’t pass before the last federal election call. Ms Ambrose expressed her disdain that those “old boys” in the Senate had failed to protect Canadian women. She specifically called out Senator Plett for procedural stalling. A CBC article stated that “because of political procedural moves by the Conservative whip, Manitoba Sen. Don Plett, private member’s bills like Ms. Ambrose’s haven’t made it onto the Senate agenda.”
Such a response was hardly surprising since Senator Plett was a vocal supporter of President Trump who has faced some twenty-six charges of sexual misconduct, including rape, and brags about his skill at grabbing women’s genitalia. Senator Plett has referred to Mr Trump as his good friend.
Unbelievable makes you very aware that many things need to change if we want to adequately protect women from sexual assault and rape. I wonder if Senator Plett has watched Unbelievable? Maybe someone should suggest he do so.
Note: Something I found very interesting about the series is that one of the detectives on the case is a woman with a strong Christian faith and it helps her deal with the disturbing things she witnesses as she investigates rape incidents. Her partner on the case is an atheist because she can’t believe that if there was a God that God would allow such horrible things to happen to women. It is interesting to see how the two detectives influence one another in matters of faith as they pursue their case.
Note: The current Liberal government introduced a bill very similar to Ms. Ambrose’s and it passed in November. Because it is not a private member’s bill there is a much better chance it will make it through the Senate as well.
Note: The thing that makes Unbelievable so chilling is that it is almost 100% accurate in depicting a true story reported on the podcast This American Life and in a print story by Ken Armstrong and Christian Miller.