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Women and true crime tales of rape, murder & serial killers

Monday, December 20, 2010
posted by Rita Handrich

I remember being fascinated by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.  And during my maternity leave after my first child was born, I watched most of the Jeffrey Dahmer trials on CNN aware of the irony inherent in rocking my sleeping newborn while tracking the testimony of Park Dietz.  So, naturally, when I saw the new article titled “Captured by true crime: Why are women drawn to tales of rape, murder, and serial killers?” I was intrigued!

Despite ‘common sense wisdom’ that women would be repulsed by these stories (since men tend to commit these crimes and women are often the victims) the authors found that reader reviews on and other similar websites showed many more women (70% of reviewers) than men (30%) drawn to true crime books. (As a control to make sure women don’t just write a lot more reviews than men—they tallied reviews of “New in Paperback” publications. Women wrote 52% of the reviews, men wrote 48%.) So, being researchers, the authors decided to figure out why this paradox existed.

They examined men and women’s choices of books and found that women were more likely (when given a choice) to choose true crime books than men; women are more likely to want “escape tips” from these books; women are more interested in learning what motivated the violence from the offender; and women are more likely to select books with a female as opposed to a male victim.

The authors hypothesize women are drawn to true crime books to acquire information on preventing or surviving a crime. On the other hand, gaining this knowledge and awareness may also heighten fear due to a sense of greater danger “out there” then may actually exist.

For litigation advocacy, there are several lessons. If you have a violent crime case, women are going to try to understand all aspects of that case. Men will likely find the story compelling but women will try to identify possible escape routes (“if only”) the victim could have taken; women will want to understand motivation (and if you don’t give them one, they’ll draw their own conclusions); and if there is a female victim—women are likely going to pay even closer attention.

Vicary, A., & Fraley, R. (2010). Captured by True Crime: Why Are Women Drawn to Tales of Rape, Murder, and Serial Killers? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1 (1), 81-86 DOI: 10.1177/1948550609355486

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