“Victim/Suspect” has a guiding light for truth in the form of rising journalist Rachel de Leon, who works at the Center for Investigative Reporting. In parallel to the harrowing accounts detailed here, this is also the story of de Leon learning more about these shared experiences and doing her own investigation into each case for an article that she works on for years. De Leon pieces together the victim’s story of assault and then contrasts that with how the police handled it before they closed the case with the victim’s arrest. She uncovers glaring information gaps and oversights by those who should be protecting and serving all. By questioning their work, de Leon embodies one of the documentary’s life sources, its vigilant need for accountability.
A pattern emerges in these stories: The cop, if they’re skeptical of a possible sexual assault victim, will use suspect interrogation tactics against them. They’ll ask questions repeatedly; they’ll keep the accuser in the room for hours to force the victim to just want to get out of there. To see how the accuser reacts, the cops will sometimes choose to lie about having video surveillance footage of the location where the incident allegedly happened. It’s all about submission, control, and power. It is not about justice.
Meanwhile, as in instances revealed here, the alleged assailants will barely be interviewed, if at all. The reasons for this can be more intentional, like protecting a local figure, or more about bias that helps lighten the investigative time and paperwork. In the cases of Nikki and Emma, they served time in prison. All of the women interviewed here had their experience with the police culminate in headlines about making false accusations.
The film is a document of superb journalism but is unfortunately told in a sludgy, distracting fashion. Schwartzman loosely frames the doc around de Leon working for years on this article, but it can be confusing when documented scenes occur in the film’s timeline. There are no visual indicators of the time period as the voiceover jumps between the past and present tense concerning the article’s creation. Along with creating a needlessly disorienting viewing experience, it also risks taking away from moments that couldn’t be staged, like watching from across a driveway as de Leon goes to the front door of a police figure who previously hadn’t returned her phone calls.