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Opinion: True Crime Glorifies Victim's Pain As Public Entertainment

While some might argue that the true crime genre honors victims and those who solved or sought to solve the cases, survivors whose tragedy continues to be exploited by creators of true crime stories believe the appropriation can contribute to broader injustices, according to an opinion piece in The New York Times.  Annie Nichol, a writer and activist whose sister was murdered 30 years ago, said the exploitation of victims’ stories often carries a steep cost for their families as their tragedies are commodified and their privacy repeatedly violated for mass consumption. In 2022, for instance, the release of “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” on Netflix caused profound distress among many family members of Dahmer’s victims, who felt that the show was profiting from their pain, misrepresenting actual events and retraumatizing those who had lived through the horror of Dahmer’s crimes. On top of those harms, the stories that don’t fit with true crime’s cultural emphasis on white female victimhood too often go untold.

Nichol believes sensationalist stories in the media about high-profile crimes not only erode the dignity of victims but also can inflate public perception of national crime rates, which have been in decline for decades.

True crime’s narratives often concern themselves more with exacting vengeance than understanding what survivors need in order to heal and recover from unthinkable harm. And yet a majority of survivors do not receive any victim compensation or referrals from the justice system to support services that are essential to trauma recovery. Additionally, true crime stories frequently center on white female victims who were harmed by strangers. This overshadows the reality that Black Americans are more likely to be victims of homicide and that in cases in which a perpetrator is identified, a vast majority of homicides are committed by people known to the victims. The exploitation and erasure that slant true crime’s bias toward sensational violence undermine our ability to address the systemic root causes of harm while estranging us from our empathy toward marginalized victims most affected by crime.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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