The Netflix documentary Victim/Suspect exposes the criminalization of victims of sexual assault


Editor’s note: The following story contains references to sexual assault. To reach the National Sexual Assault Hotline, call 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit us online.rainn.org.


Emma Mannion, Nikki Yavino, Dyanie Bermeo. All victims of sexual assault, all handcuffed for having the courage to speak up. At the end of Nancy Schwartzmans victim/suspectThe shocking documentary, released May 23 on Netflix, makes it crystal clear why anyone, regardless of the evidence, should be afraid to report a rape to the police.

Filing a false report of rape is an offense punishable by a year in prison. Even more worrisome, it is 100% legal for law enforcement officers to openly lie during an interview with a prosecutor, so long as those lies are used to coerce a confession: the victim is then effectively treated as a suspect. These lies, presented by a known authority, often cause the already traumatized victim to back down or retract their story altogether.

Much of the document’s horrific content comes from surveillance footage collected by Center for Investigative Reporting journalist Rachel (Rae) de Leon, who led the 2018 initiative to investigate the surprising number of women being arrested on fabricated allegations across the country became.

De Leon has found more than 180 cases of fake news reported in the media over the past decade and sees a pattern in how police abuse their power and victims allegedly abuse their trust. In much of the footage, the accusers are harassed for hours within days of their assault, mostly in the absence of a lawyer or attorney. Often citing “video evidence” that somehow contradicts the prosecutor’s account, officials (significantly, both men and women) coerce victims, mostly women, into retracting their allegations so they can then be charged. At one point, a young female victim replies to an investigator, “If you say there is no video evidence[of an attack]I have to believe you.”

Rae de Leon and Emma Mannion in victim/suspect

The cases of Emma Mannion and Dyanie Bermeo shape the film with a nuanced portrait of each young woman and how quickly the police invalidated their stories and put them behind bars. “You’re not being honest with me, okay?” The officer tells Mannion, a University of Alabama student who was raped after a football game, during her interrogation. After being interrogated for almost two hours before being handcuffed, Mannion actually apologizes to the officer for the overtime his team put into investigating the case. In a later scene, Bermeo, a King University student who reported a police officer for assaulting her during a traffic stop, apologizes for crying when Schwartzman interviews her. victim/suspect shows the extent to which women, conditioned to apologize for any inconvenience they may cause, are pressured to take the blame for their own violent rape and even serve a sentence for it.

“This happened to you and now someone is accusing you of lying about it?” asks Dr. Lisa Avalos, a legal expert featured in the film. “Countless women, especially young women, have been persuaded to recant because that’s how they get out of this situation.” Through the efforts of de Leon and various civil rights attorneys, Mannion’s and Bermeo’s cases were dropped and their files deleted. But nothing can give them back the years of suffering great psychological harm and public stigma.

Given the incarceration of Harvey Weinstein and the recent incarceration of E. Jean Carroll winning verdict In her lawsuit against Donald Trump (for sexual assault, if not rape), it might seem like the tide is turning for victims of sexual assault. victim/suspect is difficult to view for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is that it shows how much work still needs to be done – not only in training police units to better handle sexual assault cases, but also in fostering a culture of believing in the survivors.

victim/suspect Streams on Netflix from May 23rd.



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