It all started, when I was a kid, with “Unsolved Mysteries”. If you aren’t familiar, it was a TV show in the eighties and nineties that profiled cold cases and paranormal stories. I was obsessed with all the frightening tales highlighted on the show. My brother and sister, to this day, still mock me for memorizing the phone number (1-800-876-5353). As I grew into adulthood, I maintained my fascination with mysteries, particularly the ones that were true. Today, that means I’ve entered the world of true crime. I’m not sure I can name all the podcasts and shows I’ve gotten into in the last few years (I’ll try to do so at the end of this article). But I realized, recently, I’m not alone. Women are particularly interested in this genre, but why is that? Why do women LOVE true crime?
One study reported that women fixate on true crime stories because of the prevalence of violence, often aimed at women, that seems built into our culture. Women may have a very real fear that they will be a victim of a crime. That fear isn’t unfounded – women are victimized by an intimate partner more often than men. For all our modern advancement, humans still have a very real survival instinct. Feeling prepared for potential danger is one way to address that. That might seem crazy, absorbing true crime stories to avoid crime, but it’s true for me, when I really think about it.
I want to preface this by saying that victims are NOT to blame for violent crimes perpetrated against them in any way. However, on some level, true crime gives us the chance to be “smarter” than the victims. Think of it this way – when you watch a horror movie and someone goes towards the basement where we, the audience, know the threat is, you might yell at your TV “Don’t go down there!” It’s a similar phenomena with true crime. We can sit back and say things like “I never would have trusted that guy who turned out to be a killer!” Plus there’s just the fun of puzzling out the solution to the mystery. The fact that it’s a true story just ups the ante.
A fascination with evil
Most of us cannot fully understand why someone would become a serial killer (though when people use the non-word “walla” instead of “voilà”, I can imagine…) True crime gives us a peak into a killer’s mind, a place that has mystified scientists, law enforcement, and regular people like me for eons. Furthermore, there’s the human fascination of good versus evil. True crime is a chance to explore that dichotomy. It goes straight back to that self-protection instinct.
Compassion for victim…and maybe the perpetrator
Whether a woman has experienced a violent crime or not, she may see herself in the victim of the true crime story. So many popular true crime shows feature young, beautiful, small-town women that many of us can easily relate to. We may think “Thank God that has never happened to me.” On the other side of things, some women even feel compassion for the perpetrator. I sometimes do, particularly if he came from an abusive upbringing – it seems like he never stood a chance at leading a good life. I’ve even caught myself wondering if I know someone who could be or become a serial killer. Would I know? How would I react if I found that out (hopefully not as the killer’s victim)?
For now, this isn’t going anywhere, as long as women continue to love true crime. If you’re looking for suggestions, I have plenty. On HBO, there’s “The Jinx”. On Netflix, check out “Making a Murderer” (I only liked season one) or “I am a Killer”. Then for podcasts, listen to “Serial” (the first season and it’s updates), “Up and Vanished”, “Atlanta Monster/Monster”, “Dr. Death”, “Dirty John”, “Man in the Window”, “Criminal”, “In the Dark”, “Accused”, and “Breakdown”. And of course, there’s always old episodes of “Unsolved Mysteries.”