I have a confession. I love serial killers. Well, that’s a little strong. I don’t love serial killers, I’m not out there, writing them fan mail, sending them chocolates in prison, idly writing ‘Mrs Dahmer’ surrounded by hearts in my notepads, but I am fascinated by them. Of anything death and murder related, really. I have been, for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I had a Filofax of horror (as your grandparents, kids). I have very clear memories being terrified of the stories but kept on going back for another sneaky peak. For a long time, I thought that it was just something weird and macabre that I was into all by lonesome. Turns out, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The business of true crime is booming and this surge of interest is large being driven by women.
No, really. Numbers bear this out. Amazon estimates that 70% of true crime books are purchased by woman. Listen to any crime podcast, and you will be treated to a roll call of female names pledging themselves of patrons. The last decade or so has seen a surge of women working within the death industries and forensics had proven so popular with the fairer sex that some labs are almost entirely populated by women. Female detectives and law enforcement professionals proliferate through TV, films and literature and technology have revealed the world’s near insatiable appetite for true crim podcast, many of these fronted by women.
Why are women so interested in the darker side of life? Like most things in life, no one is 100% sure, but there are a couple of theories. (If you want more in-depth info about this, I recommend a 2010 study by Vicary et. Al., Captured by True Crime: Why Are Women Draw to Tales of Rape, Murder and Serial Killers?). Theory one: some commentators have suggested that, as women are trained and expect to be more empathetic, they are more draw towards, and moved by the, sufferings of others. Another argument is that women derive a sense of satisfaction from watching the perpetrators be caught and righteous brought to justice, allowing consumers to subconsciously reassert control over hostile, unfair and still maddeningly male-dominated world. Perhaps it is because women have traditionally been caretakers of the dead, charged with bringing folk into this word and also overseeing their transition out of it. Maybe those expectations are woven into the fabric of our cultural DNA, a responsibility which in our death-phobic reality can only meet met through vicarious second hand means.
I think that a big honking component of this fascination is that as women are so, so much more likely to be the victim of these crimes. That being true, I think it behoves us all furnish ourselves with the facts and stay alert. While men are more likely to be victims of crime overall (according to United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, 78.7% of murders victim’s worldwide are men), in the types of crime that falls under the umbrella of ‘True Crime’, the nasty, disturbing, violent types of offences, women are more likely fall foul of these crimes by an overwhelming majority (think intimate partner abuse, rape, sex-related homicide).
It might seems that these cases such as these, at such extreme ends of criminality, are highly unlikely to happen to happen to us in the ‘normal’ world, but I think it can be argued that their very existence bleeds into our everyday experience and structures our understanding of what it means to be a woman moving within the world. From every creeper at a bar who won’t take no for an answer, to every time a women has walked home, late at night, alone, save that one guy who walks behind them a little too close, many women have cause to ask themselves, ‘Is tonight the night I get hurt? Researchers have suggested that ladies look to true crime for strategies and technics for avoiding getting into those dire situations to begin, and as an instruction manual of how to navigate their way out of it , should the worst befall them (pro-tip: NEVER get in the truck).
Through their interest and engagement with true crime, many women have found a community that understands their fears and fascinations and cleared a safe space to tackle difficult subject matter. They have found a place where issues close to their heart will be taken seriously and where their fears will not be written off or ignored, dismissed as a ‘psycho ex-girlfriend’, a ‘crazy bitch’ or simply ‘being hysterical’. It’s hard to minimalize certain behaviours and thought patterns when the gross consequence of those thoughts and behaviour are right in front of your eyes. Where else is stalking treated as the disturbing pattern of controlling behaviour that it is and not like a joke, or what on overzealous admiring might do to win over the object of his affection? Not in mainstream dialogue, I’ll tell you that (I’m looking at you’re here, The Notebook).
Knowing how these crimes go down, I believe, empowers women to call out bullshit where they see it, to set their boundaries not to put up with generous, coercive conduct, to recognise doggy behaviour and not to feel compelled to go along with it for the sake of politeness. It helps you tune into that little voice in your head, the ones that says ‘This isn’t right’, and let that voice become stronger and clearer, to roar in your ear like the bastard child of Beyoncé and RHIANNA, keeping them safe from harm. It gives us the knowledge to demand better. Better from our law enforcement professionals, better from our courts, better from the people around us and better from ourselves.
So be proud of your love of true crime. Be vocal. Get involved. Or, just enjoy in the comfort of your home, safe in the knowledge that a pool for like-minded women just a click away, women are ready to step up and support you, who understand your struggles and anxieties, and who may be coping with the very same issues as you are. And know that no matter where you are or what you are going through, you are never alone.
The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting – Rachel Shteir
A gentle introduction to the world of true crime, Shtier examines one of the oldest crimes in history in one of the only books to look exclusively at this offence. Why do people steal? What can be done to prevent it? What role does shame play in deterring criminal behaviour? Shtier guides us through all these questions, all the while unpicking myths and stereotypes of shoplifting as a ‘women’s crime’.
Women Who Love Men Who Kill – Shelia Isenberg
This is look at women who peruse relationships with incarcerate men – who these women are, why compels them to seek romance with such objectively terrible people, the patterns these relationships take.
The Stranger beside Men – Ann Rule
Crime fiction author Ann Rule’s recollections of serial Ted Bundy, who she worked next to for many years on a Samaritans suicide prevention hotline. She delves into Bundy’s crimes and history and attempts reconcile the charming, caring man she knew, with the monster he turned out to be.
Forensics – Val McDermid
Crime writer Val McDermid gives an overview of forensics science from its beginnings to how it gets used to today.
The Other Side: A Memoir – Lacy M. Johnson
Lacy Johnson suffered through an abusive relationship with a professor at the college she was attending. She thought leaving him would be the end of it, but instead he kidnapped and imprisoned her. This is her story of that time, how she escaped and how she put her life back together.
The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women of South Central – Christine Pelisek
For 20 years, serial killer Lonnie David Franklin Jr ran amok in South Central LA , (so much so that he appeared to take a 14 year break in between killings) and took the lives of upwards of 10 people. Why did could he carry on for so long and why haven’t you heard of him? Because his victims were poor black women, in areas beset but gang violence, drug abuse and a power structures that just didn’t care. This books charts the work of the individuals that worked tirelessly to bring justice to the deceased and the story of how heart-breakingly difficult it can be to access to basic rights and protections when you belong to a disenfranchised group.