Mother Jones

The Lady Killers

I WAS WALKING down the street wearing big headphones. I wear them everywhere, like many women, trans, and queer people I know, to avoid hearing men’s street harassment. And in my headphones I was listening to a Dateline NBC podcast episode about a woman being murdered. It struck me as kind of sick—listening to stories of women’s suffering for my enjoyment in order to avoid a milder form of suffering in the real world. But that’s the appeal of the true crime genre: We like it because it confirms that the world is dangerous and bad. But unlike the real world, in which men harass and assault and murder women, true crime can always be switched off.

My true crime fixation used to make me uncomfortable. Now I’ve accepted the addiction as part of my life. And that’s what it is—an addiction. It’s how the genre often describes itself. One of the most popular true crime podcasts is called Crime Junkie. Another is called True Crime Obsessed, which hints at the guilt we feel for consuming the stories of people, mostly white women, being murdered. We know it’s bad for us, and yet, like with any addiction, we keep going.

Over half of Americans say they’re interested in true, the hit podcast spun off from in 2014, has racked up more than 340 million downloads. Netflix has released dozens of true crime documentaries, like and more recently . True crime junkies wear shirts that say things like “true crime, glass of wine, bed by nine,” attend true crime conferences and live podcast recordings, where audiences cheer as the hosts detail the offender du jour’s punishment, and even sail away on pricey true crime–themed cruises.

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