In a compelling Netflix documentary, sexual assault victims face the heartbreaking reality of police accusing and arresting them for ‘false reporting’. 

The Netflix Originals documentary, Victims/Suspect follows the journey of journalist Rae de Leon from the Center for Investigative Reporting. Through her investigation, she uncovers a shocking revelation, exposing how sexual assault victims were subjected to intimidation by police during lengthy depositions, ultimately pressuring them into recanting their statements. 

The documentary directed and produced by Nancy Schwartzman, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2023, and was released on Netflix on May 23.   

Schwartzman’s previous work includes, Roll Red Roll, which dealt with the permissive “bro culture” around the rape cases which took place in 2012 in Steubenville, Ohio.  

In Victim/Suspect she was able to craft an enthralling and provocative investigative documentary by tracking De Leon’s investigation and exposing how policing across the US can allow law enforcement to transform sexual assault survivors into criminal suspects.   

 De Leon utilised police interrogation footage, victim testimonies and interviews with legal experts to gain insight into where the potential flaws within the police system lie.   

Beginning with piecing together the victims’ stories of assault, De Leon then compared them with the police’s handling of their cases before they subsequently closed the cases by arresting the victims.   

 By scrutinising the work of the police De Leon uncovered a recurring pattern, noting that when law enforcement officers had a form of scepticism towards possible sexual assault victims, they would resort to employing suspect interrogation tactics against them. These interrogation tactics included subjecting the accuser to hours of prolonged interrogation and repeatedly asking them questions until they reached the point of just wanting to exit the room. Additionally, police officers would lie to the victims claiming to possess surveillance footage of the location where the incident allegedly occurred.   

 It seems that the officers’ modus operandi had very little to do with justice and more focused on bringing the victims to a point of submission and having power over them. The reasons could range from police officers trying to protect a prominent local figure to them undermining the women’s recounting of their attacks to shorten the investigative time. 

 Although this aggressive approach was used on the victims, the alleged attackers were barely interviewed, if at all.  

 While the documentary is compelling and showcases excellent journalism, it is regrettably presented in a manner that is distracting and challenging to follow. The film is loosely centred around the journalist who had been working on exposing the flaws in the way sexual assault victims and cases were handled by the police for years, but the inclusion of documented evidence at random points in the timeline can cause some confusion.  

The voiceover switches between past and present tense regarding the creation of the journalist’s article, yet there are no visual cues to assist viewers in navigating this continuous shifting.  Not only did this create an unnecessarily complicated viewing experience, but the jumbled flow of events also took away from the impact some of the footage could have had on the viewer.  

 At times, the documentary also seems too much like a profile of a fired-up go-getter journalist. Although De Leon’s actions were admirable, placing so much focus on her could arguably have taken the spotlight from some of the victims’ interviews and the footage used as evidence throughout the documentary.  

 Overall, the documentary is a good and necessary watch. As a student journalist, the documentary taught me the significance of setting aside personal fears to advocate for those who cannot speak up for themselves. One aspect that resonated with me deeply was when De Leon mentioned her own apprehension when confronting individuals by knocking on their doors. However, she recognises that she serves as the voice for those who may be voiceless, and this realisation empowers her to overcome her fears and pursue her mission. 

The biggest flaw in the documentary may be the lack of access to the police officers in question as they declined to participate in the film. This leaves the viewer feeling a lack of closure and somewhat enraged knowing that none of the officers were held accountable.  

Vuvu rating: 7/10  

FEATURED IMAGE: Victim/Suspect, a Netflix Originals documentary. Photo: IMBD