EsquireIn 2008, Marie—not her real first name—reported to Lynwood, Washington police that she had been raped in her home by an intruder. But police honed in on inconsistencies in her account, and soon became skeptical of her story. Under questioning, Marie eventually told authorities that she made the entire assault up. Years later, when detectives in a different state finally caught a serial rapist, they found in his possession photos of his victims—and images of Marie’s assault. By then, she had already accepted a plea deal after being charged for making a false police report.
The dramatic story, which is adapted from a joint ProPublica and Marshall Project investigation from 2015, is the basis for Netflix’s new series Unbelievable. It may sound like a singular nightmare, but Marie is not alone. There’s Danielle Hicks, in Washington, D.C., who was just eleven years old when she was gang raped. Her story of her assault was corroborated by rape kit evidence, but police decided that the encounter was consensual—despite the fact that, as a minor, Hicks could not have legally consented to sex with adults. She was charged with filing a false report, removed from her home, and spent more than two-years in District-run facilities.
Then there’s Sara Reedy, who was working at a gas station when a thief robbed the station at gunpoint and sexually assaulted her. Police believed that she’d stolen from her workplace and invented the assault to cover up her own theft, and she was arrested and jailed. Her rapist eventually admitted to the crime.