Society’s fascination with true crime content is no secret. From Netflix’s The Ted Bundy Tapes to podcasts like Casefile and My Favourite Murder, the genre is not just popular, but experiencing unrivalled success.
But there is a sad truth about true crime — often at the centre of these gruesome and horrific stories are women.
Over the years, popular true-crime series, tales and books have revealed a shocking historical pattern of violence against women, from historical killers like Jack the Ripper to terrifying acts committed by seemingly ‘normal’ everyday men.
And yet, women seem to be some of the keenest consumers of these stories. So why are women so “obsessed” with true crime?
Well, according to research and experienced true crime writers, it’s not because we have a “saviour complex”, nor due to the widely circulated theory we’re ‘destructively attracted’ to dangerous men.
In fact, according to research, true crime content can serve as “educational” for women.
Dr Rachel Franks, a true-crime writer and researcher with a PhD in Australian crime fiction, echoes this. She says historically, women have always been “great consumers” of crime, but it’s the lessons inscribed in these stories that keep drawing them back.
“Part of the interest is around solving a puzzle, but it’s mainly about education. Women are taking note of how crimes are committed, and the sorts of people and the sorts of situations that they should be more alert to,” Dr Franks tells 9Honey.
She adds that true crime content also gives valuable insight into how the justice system works — an area and profession many don’t know much about.
“It reveals how crimes are solved, and how punishment is delivered. Women are interested in all these different stages of the story,” she says.
Do women like true crime because they’re attracted to serial killers?
The podcast’s core listenership is mostly female — first with women aged 35 to 44, and then followed closely by women aged 45 to 54 years old.
Webb says she doesn’t credit the famed theory that women are “attracted to dangerous men”, and therefore, are more drawn to true crime content.
Like Dr Franks, she believes her female listeners are “subconsciously taking notes” with every episode they listen to — learning strategies and tactics to keep themselves safe in dangerous situations.
“True crime is just so relevant. It’s drama, it’s relationships, it’s loss, it’s grief.”
“I don’t understand that phenomena, of the kind of woman who finds herself attracted to a serial killer,” Webb says.
“There are the stories about women showing up at Ted Bundy’s court case, or the ‘Night Stalker’ Richard Romero. In those cases, women almost took a romantic interest in those men, but I think that’s a unique case. It’s not a trend.”
More so, what makes true crime so addictive for women and men, according to Webb, is because it’s so real.
“True crime is just so relevant. It’s drama, it’s relationships, it’s loss, it’s grief — it’s everything rolled into one,” says Webb.
A changing space
While women are still overwhelmingly overrepresented as victims in true crime stories, Dr Franks and Webb do say the types of stories we’re consuming are changing.
“There’s been an increased focus on victims who are underrepresented, which is a really great thing. For example, of victims who are Indigenous, or of victims who are people of colour,” Webb tells 9Honey.
This focus on marginalised voices has also shed a more prominent light on the LGBTIQ+ community, especially in terms of “hate crimes”, which have, in many cases been dismissed in courts as suicide or mishaps, says Webb.
For Dr Franks, this change in the true crime space is promising.
“I think we’re getting better at giving attention to these marginalised stories, and this also, by extension, grants those groups more protection,” she explains.
“Although, I think we do need to be careful to balance whose stories are privileged when we’re thinking about true crime.”
Is it OK to be obsessed?
While many people might enjoy a true-crime binge over the weekend, Dr Franks says it’s important we remember our limits.
“We need to be careful about how we consume content that really is so dark and disturbing,” she advises.
“It’s important to remember that with this kind of content, you’ll have a limit. I think too much of anything and too much of that type of raw violence can be damaging for people, so it’s important to notice when you might need a break.”
For Webb, being discerning with the content she consumes has been a helpful habit, as well as taking note of what kind of week she’s had and her general stress levels.
“We need to take care of ourselves, and I think it’s really important to just be aware of how you’re going inside, how stressed you might feel, what you can or can’t deal with at that point in time,” she adds.
“It’s not to stop you from enjoying the stories, but just to realise that they can be emotionally and psychologically overwhelming, and it’s important to remember that.”
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