Over the past ten years, there has been a marked increase in the popularity of true crime. Across platforms such as YouTube, Netflix and Spotify, a splurge of documentaries and podcasts have cropped up, videos pertaining to which easily garnering views in the millions. The appeal? Analysts have vastly attributed it to both the virality that these streaming services enable and the morbid curiosity that humans have always held for perturbing stories. This answer however, though very plausible, does skim over one glaring phenomenon when it comes to social media true crime. It is overwhelmingly consumed by women.
In 2018, a US-based study showed that seventy-three percent of true crime podcast listeners were women. Which, when you factor in the fact that studies ranging from 2017 to 2021 consistently show that men make up the majority of podcast listeners in general, is made even more significant. Furthermore, though some of the most popular true crime YouTube videos are those run by companies such as HBO and Buzzfeed, the many of the most subscribed to individual creators are women. Names such as Kendall Rae, Bella Fiori and Eleanor Neale, who amass views in the millions, frequently appear in searches regarding cold cases and popular missing person mysteries. Bailey Sarian, who has innovatively blended the genre in with makeup tutorials (i.e. if you want to watch someone draw a winged liner sharper than the murder weapon), boasts a formidable 6.2 million subscribers.
The specific draw of the genre to women can appear, initially, perplexing. Most of these cases tend to feature female victims, who have been subjected to violence ranging from the unsettling to the unfathomably macabre. The details are often gruesome, the prime suspect invariably a close male relative or significant other. Why are we watching videos that are so, well, scary?
One could argue that a lot of women are already scared. As we have seen with the recent Aisling Murphy case, women are warned of potential violence on a daily basis; and even when we follow these rules, it sometimes isn’t enough. Over the past twenty-six years, 245 women have died violently in Ireland. Eighty-seven percent of these women were killed by a man known to them. Watching true crime, therefore, may provide a strange space of comfort for this fear. It allows us to analyse the clues, the red flags and – first and foremost – the psychology behind the perpetrator. In a world where it’s easier to put ourselves in the victim’s shoes, this detached and analytical insight into crimes can be almost cathartic.
This idea is backed by psychological experts, who claim that when we are afraid of something, often we take comfort in facing it directly. Watching or listening to these stories can help us to feel more in control over concerns that we already have for our own safety. Equally, our ability to empathise with the victims whose lives typically resemble our own only heightens our engagement with the cases. Figuring out the motives behind these crimes provides a level of intellectual intrigue, too, as committing such acts usually lies beyond our scope of experience, or even imagined experience. What drives someone to do the unspeakable? These stories not only engage our empathy, but also our critical thinking.
When considering these factors, the popularity of true crime amongst women becomes less unlikely. Despite the obvious allure that mysteries hold for the majority of the population, what seems to attract women the most is our knowledge that these crimes are something that could be committed against them. Abusive boyfriends, strange stalkers, resentful husbands.
While becoming overly absorbed in the world of true crime can make us overly paranoid, it is undeniably entertaining. Perhaps all the more so because it is all too real.