This American Life | Podcast Review | March 7, 2016 | By

This American Life #581: Anatomy of Doubt

A young woman is raped and her loved ones don’t believe her.

Perhaps the experience with “Anatomy of a Doubt” will vary by listener. Maybe it will feel differently to others. I left it, and sit with it, now a week later writing this, feeling as though I’d pulled back the tiling on the floor of the world I live in and been confronted with the reality that gooey black mold festering with tiny white maggots clung to it. Moral outrage without the moral satisfaction. An ugly confrontation with reality.

It was an episode that feigned closure, but made a point of never really providing you with any. It closed the loop on the plotline, sure. Marie, raped by a stranger who broke into her middling one-bedroom apartment, disbelieved by her foster mothers, interrogated and charged by the police with false reporting, harassed online, threatened and publicly shamed by her foster care community, is then quietly vindicated when dutiful police from a different state come through with evidence from the same serial rapist and force open her case.

Compounding trauma plays a significant role in the episode, as does a sense of class. A thread throughout is that Marie’s past abuse and suffering made her emotionally volatile, which made her both more vulnerable and less likely to be believed. Though never acknowledged explicitly, an awareness of class creeps through the episode. The victim who was believed, and who ultimately helped solve all the cases, sounds more “respectable” than a struggling independently living former foster child.

The crux of the episode begins with the realization of the mistake, and the aftermath. Speaking with the Sargent who delivered the news of to Marie—that they knew now she hadn’t lied, that her rapist was now in custody after raping four more women—it carried a deep sense of inadequacy.

He fumbled for words to describe the encounter, simply calling it a “hard” moment. The words “I’m sorry” don’t come out of his mouth. Our hosts tell us he apologized. Sure, they repaid her $500 fine she’d been assessed for a false reporting charge. Apparently the detectives apologized to her, we never hear it. The absence of the sound of “I’m sorry” leave me with a wrenching feeling of disgust. But in some ways it was an acknowledgement that no apology from him would have rectified it—that hearing it might give a sense of closure that is unwarranted—the silence reminds us there is too much to be undone by those words.

Peggy, Marie’s former foster mother who called the police to express her doubts in Marie and encouraged them to stop the investigation, was the heart of the episode in many ways. With the final minutes dedicated to Peggy’s continuing reaffirmation of Marie’s responsibility for other’s disbelief is what sits so ugly. Even gently chided and reminded by the interviewer that stoicism or a lack of emotional response is a common way of processing trauma for rape victims, Peggy clings tight– “well this sounds really bad, but…”. It was a perfect, metonymic caricature of how society treats victims writ large.

I waited, as the interviewer circled back to Peggy; I waited angrily and vengefully, fuming on what is normally a relaxing morning walk with my retriever around our Bay Area neighborhood. But I seethed at the corner of Elm and Blake streets, while the dog waiting patiently (albeit confusedly) to keep walking.

Peggy held her ground. Ultimately, it was Marie’s fault that she wasn’t believed. When an audible “fuck you” jumped out of my mouth I felt badly when I glanced at the passing family car with its windows down. I knew it was too much to ask of Peggy, but I demanded her to feel the hurt of what she’d done, while she refused to open the cognitive doors to the torrent of anguish she’d unleashed on her daughter. It would have been too much for her to feel the responsibility of having abandoned Marie, to feel the harm that several other women went on to suffer brutal hours-long rapes because the police (at her urging) never fully investigated Marie’s case, that Marie had contemplated suicide, that she had been humiliated and harassed by nearly everyone she knew (and plenty she didn’t). I wanted her to let that pain in, and let me know it. I wanted vengeance, and the episode withheld it, largely because our world withholds it.

So what of Marie?  She seems “fine.” But she has little choice—forgive, or be alone. Forgive, or continue to be ostracized and abandoned. Forgive, or live with the crushing knowledge that those who love you didn’t believe you. Forgive, or carry the rage around.

The minute dedicated to briefly summarizing her civil actions against the police department and her foster home feel about as cold and insignificant as monetary legal remedies feel for real human pain. A dollar bill is a shit way to bandage an infected gaping wound, but I suppose I was happy she got something.

It resonated with me, that feeling of not-enough-ness. But Peggy, and the way she refused responsibility, is a more brutally real picture of the world, and perhaps a better take away than just a wrong come full circle to right. Having listened, I sit with Peggy, and I sit with the Peggy in myself. Our world is built on Peggys, and Maries are broken on her back.



About the Author

Emily Renda is a law student at University of California, Berkeley, and a guest writer for Audiologue.

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