“This is something they will carry with them forever, like a bullet in the spine.” – Unbelievable, Limited Series: Episode 3

Netflix recently released an original series that is based on a true story – the true story of Marie Adler.

For those of you that haven’t seen it, it’s a harrowing story about an 18-year-old girl who was awakened by a masked man with a knife. The man tied her, raped her, and took nude photos of her before whisking away into the early morning hours – leaving Marie traumatized, violated, and terrified.

Marie reported the incident to the police. Days later, the detectives convinced her to recant her statement. Due to her intense trauma, Marie remembered pieces of the attack in intervals. The police department of Lynnwood assumed it was because the statement was false.

She was labelled a liar by her peers, people in her community, and the local police department. She was penalized socially, professionally, and eventually, legally. The City pressed false reporting charges against Marie. To avoid jail time, Marie pled guilty, which resulted in a $500 fine and supervised probation.

Years passed on and Marie suffered long-term consequences of her “false” story. Her reputation was wounded, and her support systems fell apart.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, two female detectives were fiercely working to take down a vicious serial rapist in their state. During the countless hours spent sifting through evidence, Stacey Galbraith and Sgt. Edna Hendershot noticed the haunting similarities between their unknown rapist’s attack and the attack in Lynnwood, Washington years ago.

Through DNA evidence, the two women were able to arrest Marc O’Leary at his home on February 13, 2011.

During a search of his home, a digital camera was found. He had carefully documented his brutal attacks in the form of photographs. As Hendershot and Galbraith scrolled through the roll of film, they found a then 18-year-old Marie Adler in the midst of her attack.

Court proceedings ensued, and eventually, O’Leary pleaded guilty to 28 counts of rape. He was sentenced to 327.5 years. Marie’s rapist had been put away – but the pain caused during the past three years was still at the forefront.

Marie Adler sued the City of Lynnwood for the damages caused by their poor interrogation tactics. She settled for $150,000 in January 2014.

Unbelievable sparks a critical debate; a debate that has picked up momentum from newsworthy cases such as Brock Turner, Brett Kavanaugh, and Donald Trump (to name a few).

Do women actually make false accusations of rape?

In the cases of Kavanaugh, and Turner, when victims publicize their sexual assault stories, the first (and easiest defensive) from political members and Hollywood socialites is: “She’s lying!”

At that point, it is he said versus she said. Years after an assault, there is typically little to no evidence that the attack ever occurred.

So, who should the court – and society – side with when these accusations make headlines?

How often do false accusations occur?

Majority of individuals in society overestimate how often false accusations of rape are pursued. Depending on the source that you read, only 2-8% of rape accusations are considered “false”.

However, this number is greatly skewed for several reasons.

Criminologists estimate that only 40% of rape cases are reported to the police. Based on this statistic, it is fair to say that the percent of false rape accusations would be significantly smaller if we were basing the calculation off of the actual amount of rape victims.

Rape victims don’t report their rape for many reasons. They may be afraid of retaliation, having insufficient evidence, or being shamed. Some rape victims self-blame after an attack, feeling guilt for drinking or being alone at night.

Furthermore, there seems to be a disconnect between the difference of “false rape” and “unfounded rape”.

False rape is a crime that never occurred. However, unfounded rape may have occurred but cannot be proven in the court of law. Unfounded rape may lack sufficient evidence or may not meet legal criteria. Some law enforcement officers will label unfounded rape as false rape, thus resulting in inflated statistics.

Despite the potentially incorrect statistics, scientists have concluded with this: You are 15 times more likely to be wrongly convicted of murder than rape. Furthermore, boys and men are more likely to be assaulted themselves than be falsely accused of someone else’s assault.

To sum it up: False rape accusations are extremely rare.

Signs that DON’T Suggest False Accusation

Society makes major mistakes when determining whether the crime occurred or not.

1) “She didn’t seem like a rape victim.”

In the case of Marie Adler, police and peers were quick to discredit her on the fact that she showed little emotion. She casually remembered her attack in questioning.

Victims of numerous crimes can be discredited based on their emotion, or lack thereof. However, the grief caused by a traumatic event is extremely individual.

“This case, it just so brings to light the victims of crimes, especially something as intimate as a sex assault, they all react differently,” Sgt. Galbraith responded.

2. “She only came forward once he was famous.”

Yes, there can be more to gain from somebody who is in the private eye. However, speaking out against a person of power, such as Brett Kavanaugh, puts the victim at risk of humiliation, scrutiny and legal battles as well. The victim must outweigh the benefits of speaking out versus the benefits of staying quiet.

In a more likely situation, women who speak out against somebody that has become more publicly relevant could be because they want to protect society from the painstaking event they went through.

3) “She waited years to report it.”

As mentioned above, the majority of victims don’t report their attacks for several feared reasons.

As people that have never been victims of assault before, they might not fully understand the long-lasting effects of rape.

Victims of rape report depression, PTSD, sleep loss and more even years after their attack.

Rape is a complete violation and will have long-term effects. Victims should be able to come forward when they see fit, or when they are comfortable.

4) “She was drunk/alone with him/wore a mini skirt.” (And any other toxic defence)

Drinking is not consent for sex.

Scantily clad clothing is not consent for sex.

Your son’s career potential is not consent for sex. (@Dan Turner)

Victim blaming has no grounds. It didn’t 20 years ago, and it doesn’t now. In Canadian court, information such as a woman’s previous sexual history cannot be used by the defence in court.

How To Handle False Accusation?

Unfortunately, despite the unlikeliness, false rape accusations have (and probably will) occur. False accusations can not only ruin the accused’s reputation, but they can undermine true victim’s statements

Alabama is working to pass a bill that will criminalize false accusations. Having harder sentencing for this behaviour can, and should, be implemented. However, it’s already difficult to prove a rape occurred – imagine the difficulty that proving false accusations will be.

If anything, hopefully, the threat of punishment will drop the percentage of false rape accusations – and in turn, create a safe place for both men and true victims of sexual assault.

In Conclusion

Believe victims.

Sexual assault and rape are deeply excruciating and traumatizing events. By creating a society that is quicker to scorn the accuser than the accused, we are diminishing the already low reporting statics.

One sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds. In the time it took you to read this, about 10 sexual assaults have occurred.

If you have been a victim of sexual assault, please reach out to your local police department to report your attack and prevent further incidents. However, most importantly, please talk to trusted support systems and/or a psychologist to minimize potential long-term effects.

Written by Celina Dawdy