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‘Victim/Suspect’ Review: A Sobering Documentary Exposes the Ways Many Prosecutors of Sexual Assault Are Put on the Rails

Sexual assault is one of the most commonly reported crimes in the United States and it is rare for a perpetrator to be prosecuted. However, the headlines lead us to believe the opposite: that the justice system is being ravaged by a wave of false reports from vengeful and/or unhinged women. As for the appalling disconnection between reality and perception, the eye-opening Victim/suspect reveals an unholy combination of factors: a tendency to distrust the accuser when the subject is rape, a lack of motivation on the part of some law enforcement agency to dig up the actual evidence in such a case, manipulative interrogation techniques, and a hideous outdated idea of ​​consent. “He didn’t hold you, that’s not rape,” a prosecutor recalled of an officer.

As she did in her previous documentary, the powerful and disturbing Scroll Red Scroll, director Nancy Schwartzman shines a scathing light on the ways victims of sexual assault are often more easily shamed than one might think. In the cases investigated in her new film, they are also made suspects by the police – not after an investigation finds their accusations to be baseless, but from the start. In some cases, they are charged and arrested as criminal liars before the results of their rape package are processed.


It comes down to

Measured and sometimes confused, but undeniably important.

The documentary is also a portrait of investigative journalism in action, focusing on Bay Area reporter Rachel (Rae) de Leon. She had noticed a nationwide pattern in stories of attackers retracting their claims and then serving time for filing a false report. about the need for a full investigation.

It’s nice to see a hard-working reporter dedicate her energies to such an important case, especially given the gruesome pseudo-journalism that, as the film shows, plays a big part in some prosecutors’ ordeal. It doesn’t diminish the impact of the film’s revelations to have a de Leon-centric layer — she embraces her dream job, she crosses the country, pounds the sidewalk, literally knocks on doors to try and talk to reluctant law enforcement personnel. But it does keep things at a certain distance. The time spent showing her home or cycling to work, however brief, feels awkward and could have been better spent clarifying certain passages about the lawsuits themselves. The reenactments used to flesh out the film are more distracting than helping.

De Leon’s four-year investigation included many freedom of information requests and the involvement of other CIR journalists to sift through the resulting influx of police data. In the end, she gathered information on nearly 200 cases. Victim/suspect focuses on two of them. Both women came back and/or apologized to the police, but they maintain their innocence to De Leon and anyone who will listen.

One of these two cases unfolds as De Leon reports, and it involves Dyanie Bermeo, a college student in North Carolina who was charged with filing a false report shortly after telling police she was assaulted by someone posing as like an agent. The second accuser, Emma Mannion, meets de Leon several years after her experience as a student at the University of Alabama. Members of the Tuscaloosa Police Department began their dubious investigation into her reported rape by grilling her — in the hospital room where she underwent a vaginal exam.

The most disturbing material in the documentary is undoubtedly the police interrogation footage. Such ties have become a familiar element of true crime films and series; here, as in Make a killer, they expose manipulative (but legal) interrogation practices such as the Reid technique to elicit confessions. “I break through psychological barriers,” a detective assures De Leon. Her filmed interview with him shows that she is in complete control, using her own impressive methods to dismantle his mansplaining attitude. Police interrogation practices sometimes include false claims that they have video footage refuting the accuser’s claims. As for Mannion’s case, Schwartzman and de Leon are punching big holes in that line of attack.

The interrogation room footage also shows an outrageous gulf between how accusers and defendants are treated in sexual assault cases — if the defendant is even brought into that room. A Connecticut detective tells De Leon that he never questioned two college football players accused of rape because they “didn’t want to be interviewed.” In another farce, after a chat with a friend about fishing, an accused man, a member of an influential family, is told he has done nothing wrong, and thanks the officer for the “very thorough job”.

In contrast, the women in those interrogation rooms are greeted – sometimes for hours at a time – with statements such as “I don’t believe you at all.” And then, once the police consider someone a liar rather than a victim, a horrible cycle begins: they publicize her “false report” on social media and reveal her name. In addition to inciting vicious remarks from the usual trolls, these posts are picked up by so-called journalists and republished without the slightest attempt at corroboration.

Lawyers and other experts weigh in on the miscarriage of justice. Law professor Lisa Avalos describes a “media fascination” with Gone Girl Syndrome, pointing out that the greater risk by far, for both men and women, is not being falsely accused of sexual assault, but being assaulted. Carl Hershman, a retired detective with the San Diego Sex Crimes Unit, explains why many officers prefer to close a case — and get it off their desk — with the woman’s arrest rather than take the time to investigate her claims.

Women talk director Sarah Polley recently said on Marc Maron’s podcast that she believes we’re in the middle of a reaction to #MeToo. That may explain some of the cases De Leon has examined, but the problem is deep-seated and predates any recent social movement; the journalist’s work covers 10 years of business. Victim/suspect illuminates a horrifying reality that has turned the lives of many women upside down. And it provides clear confirmation of an essential truth that many observers have found difficult: recantation is not evidence that no crime has been committed, only evidence that mind games work, especially when one is young, naive, and traumatized.

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