‘Victim/Suspect’ Review: When the Accuser Becomes the Accused

Considered against the expanding subgenre of trope-laden streaming documentaries about troubling true crime, “Victim/Suspect” seems, at first glance, to conform to type — particularly during its opening waterfall of lurid video and audio clips. But the film, which examines cases in which sexual assault survivors are charged with false reporting, is the rare entry whose revelations feel cogent, earned and memorable.

“Victim/Suspect” (on Netflix) takes the form of a real-time investigation, tracing the efforts of a young reporter at the Center for Investigative Reporting named Rachel de Leon. Over the course of several years, she unearths a matrix of rape survivors who turned to the criminal justice system for help only to be doubted by officers and then manipulated into recanting their accounts.

The director, Nancy Schwartzman, zeros in on a small handful of de Leon’s subjects and lets them tell their side of the story, some for the first time. By centering on de Leon’s journalism rather than the individual experiences, Schwartzman is able to extrapolate from these cases a broader pattern of sexism and police intimidation.

The film’s biggest weakness ends up being its lack of access to the attending officers, who decline to participate. In their stead, de Leon interviews a former detective who explains that law enforcement diverts rape cases into false reporting charges because the latter are less work. Alongside the documentary’s deluge of nightmarish interrogation room footage — minute after minute of police bullying women until they crumble — the absence of a better explanation is infuriating, but perhaps that’s the point.

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. Watch on Netflix.


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