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Does true crime help its victims?

Illustration: Madalyn Drewno – The Sentry

It minimizes the struggles of victims

Opinion by Samantha Register

Surprisingly, many people don’t seem concerned that true crime turns violence and human tragedy into entertainment. True crime stories follow disturbing trends which both minimize the realities of crime victims and fail to highlight strategies to prevent crime or help victims.

Firstly, the victims featured in true crime media are usually women, and the perpetrators are usually men. According to the Domestic Violence Hotline, one in four women have experienced severe intimate partner violence, and one in five women have been raped in their lifetime. Additionally, NPR reports that 81 percent of women have experienced street harassment—a phenomenon that has made many women fearful of being out in public alone. True crime turns these incidences into “scary stories” without addressing the prevalence of violence against women, and true crime media doesn’t offer any solutions to help those who may be living in fear.

The true crime phenomenon also contributes to “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” usually featuring stories where the victims are attractive, white, and upper-middle class. However, poor and working-class women, as well as non-white women, are often more vulnerable to violence. The true crime phenomenon generally hasn’t brought awareness to struggles of women in communities vulnerable to violence.

Lastly, instead of offering solutions for how to ensure the safety of women and people of vulnerable communities, true crime stories often engage in forms of “victim-blaming.” For example, many programs on the true crime channel Investigation Discovery offer warnings to viewers about what crime victims on their programs supposedly “did wrong,” like going on a date with a man the victim met through an online dating site. But, many people use online dating sites to find a partner. Scaring people out of participating in normal, everyday activities is not an effective way of preventing crime.

Perhaps true crime can evolve in the future to be more sensitive to victims and offer meaningful solutions, but current viewers should be wary of the narratives presented on true crimes series. 

It provides support and closure

Opinion by Amanda Blackman

The current trend in true crime has raised awareness for some of the dark realities that many people have to live through. But just because there is an interest in a subject does not mean that it is viewed as entertainment. Instead, the interest in true crime communicates to victims that they are not alone and keeps public interest in cases that have not been properly investigated. 

As my opponent stated, one in four women has experienced interpersonal violence, according to the Domestic Violence Hotline. Due to a lack of conversation, victims claim to have felt alone in their struggles. Instead of perpetuating silence, victims to violence of any sort have an ever-growing network of individuals vocally supporting them. Many notable true crime sources make conscious efforts to not blame the victims but rather build a support network around them.

The general public has an opportunity to support victims emotionally as well keep a continued interest in cases. As awareness rises for the “Missing White Woman Syndrome,” many people are calling attention to improperly investigated cases involving minority groups. For example, within recent years, the unsolved case of Elisa Lam, a Cantonese immigrant, has moved to the forefront of true crime. As many investigative pieces have been focused on white women, many are now changing the stigma and demanding justice for individuals such as Lam whose case remains unsolved.

The high amounts of public interest increase the likelihood of cases remaining open until they are properly solved. This year, Michelle McNamara’s book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, chronicled the story of the Golden State Killer, a serial killer and rapist who attacked in the 1960s and 1970s. The case was no longer under active investigation. Once awareness was reawakened from individuals like McNamara, the case was reopened and went under current investigation, which led to the arrest of Joseph DeAngelo for the crimes committed over 50 years ago.

Individuals with an interest in true crime remain hesitant to vocalize their passion due to a negative stigma perpetuated by my opponent’s argument. Instead, the current interest in true crime has led to supporting victims, raising awareness, and advocating for minorities.

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