In this article:
- True crime is a genre centered on violent crimes such as rape and murder, crimes whose victims are often women. Despite the victim demographics of the genre, many women enjoy true crime media and tend to be more invested in it than male audiences do.
- Studies have shown that women’s fascination with true crime is more than just morbid curiosity and is a way for them to mentally prepare for the possibility of being a victim as well as a way to understand how the “criminal mind” operates.
- The increased demand for true crime media has incentivized content creators to produce true crime content that can be seen as insensitive, such as murder mukbangs and make-up tutorials, by families of victims who find the genre exploitative.
- Forensics experts and criminology institutions have pushed for a de-emphasis of the role that killers play in true crime cases by centering narratives on victims and families as a way to humanize them and curb the trend of copycat killers and criminal admirers.
You’re not special for winning a game with someone who you know was never playing.Penelope Scott, Lotta True Crime
True crime is a genre that’s all about grisly murders — the last thing you would normally think of as entertaining. And yet, the demand for true crime media has grown so much that there are hundreds of YouTube channels and podcasts dedicated to the subject as well as businesses that sell “detective kits” with files that you can use to solve (fictional) cases.
Streaming platforms like Netflix have banked on this popularity to rake in thousands of dollars through true crime documentaries such as Sophie: A Murder in West Cork and Crime Scene: The Vanishing of Cecil Hotel.
And it’s all thanks to the ladies at home watching these documentaries while finishing their multi-step skincare routine.
Most True Crime Fans Are Women Even Though Women Are Often the Victims of These Crimes
There’s no denying that true crime has exploded in popularity in recent years. Whether it’s a popular true crime web series like BuzzFeed Unsolved or A Little Bit Human‘s very own Tea After Dark podcast, there seems to be no end to the amount of true crime media that you can consume on the internet.
Considering that a majority of true crime victims are women, it feels almost bizarre that women are the top consumers of true crime. This isn’t to say that most women love true crime.
In fact, the difference between male and female viewers of true crime is so small that it may as well be an even split.
According to Civic Science, 13% of men are regular viewers of true crime documentaries compared to 16% of women. Meanwhile, 43% of men are completely uninterested in true crime versus 35% of women.
But things get interesting when you take into account how much more invested those female fans are in true crime compared to male fans.
An overwhelming majority of people who follow true crime podcasts on Twitter are women. My Favorite Murder, a true crime podcast hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, has the biggest difference between their female and male fans. The only exception is Last Podcast On the Left whose male followers slightly outnumber their female ones.
But statistics aside, the fan culture around true crime as a genre is dominated by women to the point that it wouldn’t exactly be wrong to say murder is girl talk.
Because for a lot of women who consume true crime content, it is.
We do our chores to JonBenét Ramsey’s seemingly unsolvable murder. We try to crack the Setagaya family murder while doing each other’s nails at a sleepover. At least, I know my girlfriends and I have.
The point is, it has become so normal for women to talk to each other about violent crimes that there are YouTube channels where female YouTubers do mukbangs and makeup videos while talking about serial killers.
Makeup videos. Clearly, the target audience isn’t your average male true crime watcher.
This female fan culture around violent crime can come off as insensitive or even downright sick, especially to those who personally knew the victims. But for most women who like this type of content, the main reason they listen to podcasts and watch documentaries about it is that they want to be ready for when they become the victim.
Why Do Women Love True Crime?: Morbid Curiosity and Mental Preparedness
Penelope Scott, who you might remember for her viral TikTok song “Rät,” encapsulates the female fascination with true crime best in her song “Lotta True Crime” where she portrays the genre as comforting girl talk while describing serial killers as losers who wouldn’t have gotten away with it if their victims knew how to protect themselves.
And studies on why women watch true crime corroborate this.
A paper published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal found that women enjoyed consuming true crime content, including those dealing with rape, far more than men despite the latter generally liking violent media more than the “fairer sex.”
Researchers asked nearly 14,000 participants to choose between two true crime books, one of which had information about how to escape from an assailant and another that didn’t have that information.
An overwhelming majority of female participants chose the book that promised to teach them how to evade a killer as opposed to male participants who were more evenly split between the two books.
Another aspect of women’s obsession with true crime was that it allowed them to guess which man in their lives would turn violent.
Books like Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit reveal common patterns and inciting incidents leading up to an ex-boyfriend or ex-husband deciding to murder their former, often female, lover.
This might sound odd since we usually think of murderers as unknown assailants who jump out of dark alleys, but the majority of women who are murdered are killed by men they know, typically romantic partners or family members.
And statistics aside, to the ladies reading this, how many men have you met who furiously called you ugly, bitch, or whore after you rejected them? Not if, how many.
Predictably, the study found that 65% of women chose true crime books that promised to have information about the killer’s motives for the murder. Women also tended to choose books with female victims more often than male participants chose books with male victims.
This lines up with findings that show women fear crime more than men do despite women being less likely to become a victim of violent crime than men, often because of lower rates of participation in activities that would incite violence in the first place such as gang involvement.
Some researchers have called this the “fear of crime paradox” but female researchers point out that women’s fear of violent crime should be viewed from a gender-sensitive perspective that takes into account that women are generally more physically vulnerable than men.
The Shift to Victimology
True crime media has been a powerful tool for women who fear becoming victims of violent crime, allowing them to mentally gear up for becoming victims themselves and teaching them how to spot potential aggressors.
But the ever-growing popularity of true crime means that more and more women are looking for new crime cases to read about and digging up old cases that families may not want to see discussed to death on the nth podcast.
Pardon the pun.
In a 2019 article published by Crime Reads, Lilly Danycger opened up about what she saw as the violent “taking away” of her cousin a second time by reporters who treated Sabina, her cousin, as nothing more than material.
Sabina was a 20-year-old half-Filipina of Irish descent who was raped and murdered near her apartment in Philadelphia in June 2010.
When news of her death broke out, reporters swarmed Lilly’s family with what Lilly saw as obvious questions (e.g., “How is your family doing?” to which she answered, “What time is orange?”)
“It would be intolerable to me,” Danycger writes, “…for someone to splash Sabina’s last moments and the horror of her death onto a TV screen, or to narrate it between advertisements for Casper mattresses.”
The monetary incentive for producing true crime content also opens up a new can of worms. Is our consumption of true crime incentivizing companies to make hyper-sensationalized content where the facts of a case take the backseat to dramatic speculation simply because it’s more entertaining?
On that note, is the fame we’re giving serial killers spawning copycats?
Dancyger’s main issue with true crime media is how often it would glorify serial killers rather than emphasizing the humanity of the victims they murdered, a move that has inspired copycat killers to imitate “famous killers” in the hopes that they can immortalize themselves in fame and the blood of their victims.
It’s not just true crime media that’s been criticized for overemphasizing killers. The field of forensics and forensic psychology has lately begun to reconsider the effects of how they frame serial killers as “clever.”
Forensic criminologist Xanthe Mallet wrote for Quartz to share what she saw as the troubling glamorization of killers in media.
Since they make for discussion starters, Mallet often watches true crime documentaries with her students, but she questioned the effects of this when one of her students expressed attraction to Ted Bundy while viewing Netflix’s Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.
Incidents and trends like this have pushed forensics experts and university criminal justice departments to shift the way they teach crime from a focus on the killer to a focus on the victim.
Enter victimology, a subset of criminology that aims to study the effects of violent crimes on victims, the relationship between victims and the justice system, and the interactions between victims and criminals.
There are currently three central theories of victimology: victim precipitation theory, lifestyle theory, and deviant place theory.
Victim precipitation theory suggests that victims are singled out because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, or ethnicity. Lifestyle theory posits that it’s a victim’s lifestyle that makes it likelier for them to become victims of crime such as associating with known criminals. Lastly, there’s deviant place theory which supposes victims become victims because of a combination of the earlier factors.
To be clear, none of the theories attempt to shift blame to the victims for their own victimization.
Instead, they try to see why killers would be drawn to certain people as victims because of the victims’ relative vulnerability instead of portraying perpetrators as intelligent by knowing how to exploit those vulnerabilities.
Or as Penelope Scott eloquently puts it, “Well I hope this doesn’t seem too impolite, but Ted Bundy was just never that fucking bright.”