“Victim/Suspect” is the type of artless documentary that feels overwritten and orchestrated to a fault. The film tells the story of Rae de Leon, an investigative journalist who uncovers and examines the pattern of young women being ignored by authorities after being sexually assaulted. It’s a topic that’s important and infuriating, but it’s not a particularly well-made film.
Director Nancy Schwartzman includes a lot of firsthand interviews from women who were accused of making false rape reports after going to the police after being sexually assaulted. When a pattern began to emerge nationwide, the team studied over 50 cases and found shocking similarities, uncovering a broken system that tends to blame women rather than believe them.
The sequence of events goes like this: a woman is raped, and she calls the police to file a report. Not wanting the hassle, time, and expensive of a full investigation, the cops call her a liar in an effort to get the victim to recant her accusation. Some police officers go so far as lying about having video footage that “proves” the woman isn’t being truthful. This leads to the victim retracting their original statement, which in turn leads to the police charging them for filing a fake report.
It sounds like something out of a fictional film, but this is something that’s happened time and time again. Lazy cops don’t want to investigate alleged assaults, and the documentary presents damning evidence that this in indeed common practice. Schwartzman even includes footage of actual police interrogation videos that show detectives who seem more obsessed with whether or not the woman in question tried to resist their rapists rather than if a crime actually occurred. It’s a broken system that is infuriating, but Schwartzman doesn’t give viewers much information or inspiration about what they can do to help stop this cycle.
A good chunk of the film is spent interviewing women and their families (some of the victims have since killed themselves rather than live with the humiliation) about the public shame that stems from retracting a sexual assault allegation. It’s all done without a formal investigation, but the process turns the injured party into the “bad” ones in society.
“Victim/Suspect” is an investigative documentary with very dry reporting, but it’s eye-opening and thought-provoking. We should be outraged and ashamed how our country’s system is set up to provide little justice for victims of sexual assault.
By: Louisa Moore