Several studies have shown that women overwhelmingly flock to the true crime genre in comparison to men. A lot of people may see this as strange, seeing as how despite being statistically less likely than men to be the victims of violent crime, women are overwhelmingly depicted as the victims of these crimes in true crime podcasts, docuseries, TV programs, books and other forms of sensationalized consumer media.
I myself am a voracious consumer of the true crime genre, always excited to find a new podcast or docuseries that focuses on morbid but fascinating topics. The weirder, the better.
Lately, I’ve had several conversations with men who have pointed out that, at least among the people they know, young, single women who live alone tend to stand out as being the most attracted to these kinds of stories.
The general consensus I was hearing was that this phenomenon of female interest in true crime seems innately contradictory — that it goes against logic and instinct.
However, when considering my own reasons for being attracted to the genre, I find that it actually makes a lot of sense why women would be disproportionately drawn to true crime stories. I did some research into the topic, which offered some additional insights I had not previously considered.
While 80% of homicide victims in the U.S. are men, TV shows and other story-telling platforms predominately feature female victims. One reason for this is while men may be more likely to be murdered in general, women are more likely to be the targets of what we consider to be the most disturbing crimes, such as rape, serial killings and other crimes of bizarre and obsessive nature.
It's also relevant to note that when women are the victims of violence and murder, the perpetrator is usually someone they know. This makes it easy for news platforms and true crime narrators to push the idea that a particular crime could happen to anyone — even you or someone you know! — which is important because getting audiences to identify with the victims and inciting feelings of fear and worry are key elements used to capture and keep the public's attention.
Now, I feel it necessary to recognize that statistics and studies on this topic can only offer us preliminary insights due to some inherent limitations that they face. Namely, they struggle to assess data that doesn’t fall into easy scientific categories and that can’t be accurately assessed within small focus groups or surveys.
For these reasons, I find it important to note that of the studies I read, one did acknowledge a small portion of people who identified as non-binary in addition to a larger group who identified as female as all being equal participants within a study comprised of all women. One study simply used Amazon reviews and anonymous account profiles, which allow users to construct and represent their own gender identity regardless of biology, as the main focus group.
Therefore, I think (or at least hope) it is safe to say that, when talking about female versus male consumption of true crime stories, we must do so under the presumption that these categories are not all-inclusive, but aim to present a general picture of a gendered discrepancy in viewership.
Similarly, it must be acknowledged that true crime podcasts, docuseries and other media platforms most commonly depict white, middle-class women being attacked by men, even though that is a less common scenario in real life when it comes to violent crimes.
So, why are women so disproportionally drawn to this genre?
Part of the answer is simply human nature. Many of us, men and women alike, are drawn to these stories, and we likely feel similarly conflicted about our desires to consume images and stories depicting violence, murder and other obsessive crimes. What does that say about us, about the world?
A very succinct, comprehensive answer to this can be attributed to a thesis published on this topic by Catherine M. Traylor:
“Noting fear as a driving force, Marsden explains that the only resolution to fear is an answer...audiences often stay tuned because they want to understand the motivation behind the gruesome act, perhaps even rationalizing during the process a reason why it wouldn’t happen to them.
"The fact that true crime is so accessible, as Smith noted, gives audiences an opportunity to engage with the stories from the safety of their own homes...This allows audiences to dive as deep into a case as they would like with the option to back out into their comfort zone at any moment.”
This idea of catharsis is something I’ve always felt was part of my experience when watching a docuseries or listening to a podcast about a truly heinous act or individual. Not only does it allow you to live out your worst fears from a safe distance, but it also allows you to take a kind of morbid pleasure in exploring curiosity about the more devious, twisted aspects of human nature and society without the responsibility and guilt of the thoughts being your own.
In a way, true crime media creates a safe outlet for thinking about horrific things, even though it can also be argued that the nature of such programs is generally exploitative of the real victims who are portrayed as characters.
In addition, women in particular may be more inclined towards this genre because, while research shows that men are more attracted to violence in general, true crime is more appealing to women because it engages their survival instincts.
Though women are statistically less likely to be murdered than men, women have been shown to fear victimization significantly more. So, by consuming true crime stories, women gain the opportunity to learn defense tactics from those who have survived attacks or manipulated their kidnappers and managed to escape.
They may also want to learn about and understand the underlying motives and psychological factors that could drive someone to commit a violent crime, so they may detect signs of a potentially violent person in their life and be able to anticipate and avoid similar situations.
Kate Tuttle describes this in an article she wrote for the New York Times:
“Perhaps our fascination with these stories stems in part from wanting to learn from them. If a woman escaped her attacker in this particular way, we think, perhaps I could too ... My fascination springs from the same sources that have always drawn people to the genre: straightforward curiosity, vicarious thrills and a kind of magical thinking that maybe if you consume crime as art you’ll never confront it in real life.”
Ultimately, I find that the more I think about it, the more sense it makes why women would be so disproportionately attracted to this genre than their male counterparts. It isn’t counterintuitive at all, but actually quite logical.
Natalie Knox is a 23-year-old English senior from Lake Charles.