The Netflix documentary “Victim / Suspect,” directed by Nancy Schwartzman, sheds light on the disturbing trend of sexual assault victims being criminalized. The film, which premiered on May 23, highlights the fear and apprehension that many victims feel about reporting their assaults to law enforcement.
The documentary features the stories of Emma Mannion, Nikki Yavino, and Dyanie Bermeo, all of whom were victims of sexual assault and subsequently handcuffed for speaking out about their experiences. The film makes it abundantly clear why anyone, regardless of the evidence, might hesitate to report a rape to the police.
The documentary reveals that filing a false rape report is a misdemeanor punishable by a year in prison. More disturbingly, it is entirely legal for police officers to lie during an interview with an accuser, as long as these lies are used to extract a confession. This practice often leads the victim, who is already traumatized, to retract or modify their account.
The documentary draws heavily on surveillance footage collected by journalist Rachel (Rae) de Leon from The Center for Investigative Reporting. In 2018, de Leon led an initiative to investigate the alarming number of women arrested across the country for allegedly making false accusations.
De Leon found over 180 cases of false reports covered by the media in the past decade, revealing a pattern of police abusing their power and betraying the trust of the victims in their care. The footage shows accusers being intensely questioned for hours shortly after their assault, often without the presence of an advocate or lawyer. Officers, both male and female, frequently cite “video evidence” that supposedly contradicts the accuser’s account, pressuring the victims, primarily women, into retracting their allegations and subsequently charging them.
The film focuses on the cases of Emma Mannion and Dyanie Bermeo, providing a detailed portrayal of each woman and the swift dismissal of their stories by the police. The documentary uncovers the extent to which women, often conditioned to apologize for any inconvenience, are susceptible to accepting blame and even serving time for their own violent assaults.
Despite recent high-profile cases such as the imprisonment of Harvey Weinstein and E. Jean Carroll’s victorious lawsuit against Donald Trump, the documentary underscores the significant work still needed. This includes not only better training for police units handling sexual assault cases but also cultivating a culture where survivors are believed.
“Victim / Suspect” is available for streaming on Netflix from May 23.