American Nightmare asks a crucial question: when a woman reports being kidnapped and raped to law enforcement, what does it take for them to believe her? An eyewitness? Physical evidence? Literally being stolen from her home in the middle of the night? For Denise Huskins, the answer, astoundingly, was none of the above.
Huskins’s unbelievable story is now being told in a three-part docuseries on Netflix, which has rocketed up the charts to number one since being released a week ago. While it’s not unusual for a true-crime saga to be popular on the streaming network, the story of Huskins’s ordeal is resonating on a deeper level with women, who are horrified by the egregious example of how sexual assault victims are maligned and mistreated.
In March 2015, Huskins and her then boyfriend, Aaron Quinn, were asleep in his home in Vallejo, California, when they were awoken by strange lights flashing in his room. A masked intruder told the couple they were being robbed and that he was with a group who had broken into the home. The man forced them to drink sedatives, then told Huskins he would be kidnapping her for 48 hours. He forced her into the trunk of his car, telling Quinn not to call the police and to wait for further instructions.
American Nightmare, made by female filmmakers Felicity Morris and Bernadette Higgins, tells what happened next. First, the police in Vallejo were convinced Quinn had something to do with Huskins’s disappearance, interrogating him for hours and claiming that the strange details of the kidnapping (the man’s outfit of a wet suit and his insistence they wear goggles; the fact that Quinn passed out for hours due to the sedatives and called police the next day) were lies.
But it was the law enforcement’s treatment of Huskins that has taken the series to the next level of horror. Her mother claims in the series that, while her daughter was missing, one of the detectives told her that, because Huskins had been sexually assaulted as a child, it was possible she was faking her disappearance to “relive the thrill of it,” a comment that left her mother “aghast.”
When Huskins reappeared nearly 400 miles away two days later in her hometown of Huntington Beach, the Vallejo Police Department made up its mind. It publicly denounced her as a hoaxer and a fraud in a press conference a short while later, and the media began calling her the real-life Gone Girl, referring to the 2012 Gillian Flynn novel in which a woman fakes her own kidnapping to frame her husband for her murder. This was despite the fact that Huskins’s story matched Quinn’s exactly, and that she shared with law enforcement that she’d been raped by her attacker, submitting to a sexual assault exam.
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