Is True Crime Content Inappropriate?

True crime is a phenomenon. From TV shows and movies to podcasts and publications, stories that explore real-life crimes, especially missing person and murder cases, are one of the fastest growing genres. Some believe that watching and listening to true crime storytelling offers an opportunity to learn about success and crime. Failure It has the potential to strengthen our criminal justice system, raise awareness of little-known cases, and assist in the acquittal of wrongfully convicted individuals. Others are critical, saying that true criminal content distorts our thinking about the justice system, perpetuates myths about typical victims of violent crime, and that internet investigations help solve cases. It may convince the viewer that

Fans, legal experts and psychologists speak out when true crime content is inappropriate

“I think real crime podcasts, at least the good ones, give you insight into human nature,” filmmaker Norris François Jr. tells ESSENCE.

The self-proclaimed podcast enthusiast says he has listened to tens of thousands of hours of podcasts containing true crime. He understands both their praise and criticism.

“Some people just talk. I’m learning a lot in that regard, ”says François. “But I agree there are generally downsides. I listen to quite a range and some of them really sound exploitative in tone,” he adds. , noted that they are often the most popular true crime podcasts.

Critics of the content say it can desensitize viewers to violent crime and murder, causing these stories to be seen simply as “entertainment” rather than real-life tragedies. This is especially true in the case of missing or murdered blacks.

“We know from the data that they [Black women] Underrepresented and sometimes blamed on victims when they are represented. Or why were they out at this time of day?” UNC Charlotte School of Public Health Sciences.

the death of Lauren Smith Fields Last December didn’t get much media coverage until a few weeks after her death. Smithfields, a 23-year-old black woman, was found dead in her Connecticut apartment after meeting an older white man she met on her dating app Bumble. As her story gained national attention, there were concerns about how it was framed in the press, police investigations, and reactions online. true crime project.

Some social media users expressed displeasure that she was dating someone other than their race, while others said she had been involved in sex work, resulting in violence against herself. I hinted at that. The general nature of true crime can affect how comfortable people are with listening to tragic details and trying to piece together the story themselves.

“It’s like a lot of victims are blaming the content. Instead of ‘Let’s focus on the horrific event’, ‘Let’s focus on finding the person who did the harm’.” Therefore, black women and girls are not being treated fairly in some of these cases, generally and in the true crime genre,” explains Dr. Alexander.


In 2003-2004, serial killer Larry Bright kidnapped and murdered at least eight black people in Peoria, Illinois. Some women were strangled and their bodies dumped in rural areas, others he burned and buried in his backyard.

Pinnacle’s 2010 book bone crusher was about Bright and his crimes against women that upset many of their families. The cover of the book depicts the murderer, and inside the book are photographs of various crime scenes, as well as murder relics such as bone fragments from some of the victims.

As author Therion L. Williamson pointed out In a 2021 article, the book contained information from a homicide investigation that was inaccessible to family and community members. “The book provoked feelings of betrayal and outrage in the community, as few members of the victim’s family had heard or spoken of the author prior to publication.”

Williamson, an associate professor of African-American and African studies at the University of Minnesota, added that Carmere Irving, the eldest daughter of Brenda Irving, the last woman killed by Bright, told her. How do you know I want you to talk to me? “


Number of documentary series on streaming services from 2018 to 2021 63% growth True crime was its largest segment, according to media tracking firm data parrot analysis. And the average true crime consumer viewing in a year is About 84 episodes of true crime television, 44 chapters of true crime books, 34 episodes of true crime podcasts, and 20 true crime movies. Survey by supersummary. Interest is only growing.

Dr. Alexander, a clinical and forensic psychologist, said the growth of the true crime genre was driven by the fascination people have with criminal behavior and why, and through streaming services and social media. However, she says it’s important to remember that this isn’t content to be viewed simply as “entertainment,” it’s a retelling of real events with real victims.

“I always think of people who say, ‘Oh, I’m obsessed with studying serial killers and knowing all about them.’ It could have been your friends, your family, anyone,” she says.

September, Netflix releases Monsters: The Story of Jeffrey Dahmer, a series about serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Between 1978 and his 1991, Dahmer murdered and dismembered 17 men and boys. The series broke Netflix’s world record for series debuts in its first week, but it also received major backlash, mainly due to: Accused of profiting from trauma I endured the many black and queer people Dahmer murdered and the families they left behind.

Eric Perry, a relative of Dahmer victim Errol Lindsay, wrote, “One traumatic experience away from the worst day of your life being reduced to your neighbor’s favorite binge show.” It’s an event,” he said. los angeles times“And most importantly, if you’re trying to create something using real-world people and experiences, you should at least reach out to those people with respect,” he says. I got

Lindsey’s sister, Rita Isbell, whose statement on courtroom victim impact was portrayed in the series, too. criticized A streaming platform that did not contact the victims’ families before producing programming content based on their pain.

Read our op-ed, Netflix’s Monsters: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, Deserves Backlash

Fans, legal experts and psychologists speak out when true crime content is inappropriate
A still of actress DaShawn Barnes, who played Rita Isbell in a courtroom scene in “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.” His Errol Lindsey, Isbell’s brother, was one of the men murdered by the Dahmer.

Civil and criminal defense attorney Sue Ann Robinson says true criminal content and fans of these shows can both help and hinder legal investigations. “I think true crime shows can make the public more informed, depending on how they do it. Or, if it’s done for shocking value, it can actually desensitize the public.” You can,” said Robinson, who served as legal expert on seasons one and two of STARZ’s investigative documentary series. wrong man.

As part of the team, Robinson reviewed a case in which an incarcerated defendant claimed innocence. His two defendants in the series, in particular, were released from prison based on new evidence uncovered by the series’ investigation.

“True Crime fans can be both a shield and a sword because when they do the right things, ask the right questions, and pay attention to cases that go unreported, that’s great. But if you’re doing negative things like spreading false information or distracting police from things that need investigation, that’s a problem,” explains Robinson.

Fans, legal experts and psychologists speak out when true crime content is inappropriate
A still of legal expert Sue-Ann Robinson from the STARZ documentary series Wrong Man.

True crime fan Morgan Angelic Owens says she watches shows like first 48 When forensic file Because it focuses on the stories of the victims and their families, not the perpetrators.

“What got me interested was actually majoring in criminology. Growing up in the city, I always wanted to go to law school. I wanted to see how I could make a difference,” she says. essence“My father actually Hamilton County Coroner when i was in college.I ended up doing an internship in his office so it was an interesting experience that made me even more invested in this. first 48 We’re here in Cincinnati,” she adds.

For Owens, now an entrepreneur working in the media, true crime content is a key tool to shed light on little-known cases, including the stories of missing or murdered black women, she says. is especially important for

“People’s lives, especially black women who have gone missing or committed crimes, need to be told despite criticism because how do we know them and how do we remember them?” Are there?” says Owens.

She says she can’t remember watching a recent episode of her favorite true-crime show that highlighted stories about black women. black woman They are rarely seen as victims of crime. For this reason, defense attorneys and former prosecutors believe it is imperative to change this perception.

“I think black women are the canaries in the coal mine for these issues. We are at the intersection of race and gender. We are the ones who are there, and we are at a crossroads, so we need to raise awareness around it,” Robinson said.

“Our vulnerability, the fact that we are the canary in the coal mine, it’s not a black woman, it’s not a missing or murdered problem, it’s a missing or murdered person and it should be. “The more stories we have to explain the fact that we are, the more problems we have,” she says.

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