In an upcoming Netflix series, the horrific real life tale of a serial rapist — and the story of one of his victims, who was disbelieved by everyone around her — is brought to the small screen, showing how two dedicated female detectives hunted him down, resulting in the criminal getting hundreds of years of prison time and that young woman getting her credibility back.
The rapist in Netflix’s eight-episode series “Unbelievable," which is available for streaming Friday, is an adaptation of the 2015 Pulitzer-winning ProPublica and Marshall Project in-depth story about the case, which shows how his youngest victim, Marie, was met with skepticism by police and friends, eventually getting convicted of filing a false report. How could even her two foster moms doubt her story?
On an episode of “This American Life” devoted to this case entitled “Anatomy of Doubt,” the real life survivor, known only by her middle name Marie, said she was raped as a child. Marie said she didn’t talk about it much and pretty much suppressed that it had happened, but when she was raped again by a knife-wielding man in a mask who broke into her Lynnwood, Washington home while she was sleeping, she knew she had to speak up.
So, she told multiple people immediately, including one of her former foster mothers, Shannon McQuery, who she was very close to — and who immediately didn’t believe Marie.
"There was something about how she said it just made me question whether or not she’d actually been raped,” McQuery admitted on “Anatomy of Doubt.”
She cited a lack of crying, claiming that Marie wasn't emotional enough and she found it suspicious that Marie told several people about what had happened. She also claimed that Marie wasn’t making eye contact, and was “on the grass, rolling around and giggling and laughing," according to the ProPublica and Marshall Project piece. McQuery also said she found it strange that Marie wanted the same bedspread set that she had before the rape, a scene depicted in the Netflix series.
McQuery said she was raped in the past, and so she assumed Marie would be in tears and hysterics because that's how McQuery reacted.
While Marie’s so-called detachment may have seemed odd to McQuery, “dissociation is one of the many defense mechanisms the brain can use to cope with the trauma of sexual violence,” according to The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
Another former foster mom, Peggy Cunningham, (who Judith, portrayed by Elizabeth Marvel, appears to be based on in the series), theorized that Marie got sexual with someone and they took pictures of the encounter (Marie’s rapist took photos of her) and thought she made up getting raped to cover that up, according to “Anatomy of Doubt.”
“It didn’t sound real to me,” she said, according to the article. “It sounded like a lot of drama, too, in some ways.”
Cunningham said she thought of the teen as attention-seeking.
”I just got this really weird feeling. I felt like she was telling me the script of a ‘Law and Order’ story. She was detached, emotionally detached from what she was saying,” Cunningham continued.
Both foster moms talked to each other and told one another that they didn’t believe the girl. Cunningham even called the lead detective on the case the day after and questioned Marie’s validity, which did not help her former foster daughter.
Did Cunningham change her tune after she found out that there was indisputable proof that Marie was telling the truth? While now believing her, she also seemed to still blame Marie for not being believable enough.
“She needs to realize at some point, and I think she does now, that — OK, I hate to say this. But you know, I mean — OK, now this is going to sound really bad, like I’m blaming the victim,” Cunningham said on “Anatomy of Doubt.” “But some of the way that she was acting was part of the reason why it had the outcome that it did. And I am not the only person that didn’t believe her.”
In Marie’s successful lawsuit against the city of Lynnwood, Washington, she cited Cunningham as one of several people who “claimed that they were with [Marie] at the time she was raped, or that they had any personal knowledge of what [Marie] was doing at the time she claimed that she was raped. Their opinions had no factual basis. They were based solely on speculation and conjecture,” according to Courthouse News Service.
Both Cunningham, McQuery, and the police on the case have since apologized to Marie. She has since left Washington state, changed her name, and gotten married. She settled with the city of Lynnwood for $150,000.
Marie's rapist, Marc O'Leary, will spend the rest of his life in prison.
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