By Abby Butler
Hold your keys between your fingers, fake a phone call, avoid wearing heels – all are tips and tricks that young women have used to feel safe when walking alone at night. But for many, putting in a pair of earphones and tuning into a podcast detailing the graphic and gruesome details of a murder case is a better way to feel less vulnerable during a nighttime commute.
From Emmy award-winning documentary ‘Making a Murderer’ to beloved television series such as ‘Underbelly’, Australians are fascinated with the darker side of life. Now, a new breed of true crime connoisseurs is on the rise, with young women being drawn to stories of kidnapping, cults and killers.
‘My Favourite Murder’, an American podcast hosted by comedian Karen Kilgariff and television chef Georgia Hardstark, is one of the main drivers of this trend. This year, the pair have yet to slide from the Top 10 Global iTunes charts and recently recorded a sold-out live show at London’s prestigious Hammersmith Apollo. Their Facebook group boasts more than 200,000 passionate fans who call themselves ‘Murderinos’ and post anything from grisly hometown murders to patchwork quilts containing the podcast’s infamous catchphrase: ‘SSDGM’ which stands for ‘Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered’.
Olivia de Jong is a Murderino who was inspired not to make elaborate fan art, but a podcast of her own. The 19-year-old, who also studies law at the University of Newcastle, started ‘Veil Of Innocence’ in April and in each episode she examines a different Australian female criminal. She believes that by talking openly about the potential dangers young women face, “it helps us regain a sense of control and power over something that is intimidating”.
“Being able to engage in a dialogue about victimhood, abuse and trauma in a way that is exploratory as opposed to focusing on the emotional side of things can be really empowering in a way,” she said.
Whilst traditional mediums such as documentaries and TV shows remain popular, podcasting is on the rise as one of the most favoured categories of true crime. University of New South Wales’ students Rachael Ward and Meg Wheelhouse both say they prefer podcasts over any other genre.
“I don’t like the graphic violence that a lot of documentaries and TV shows include, and podcasts focus on the individual rather than the crime,” said Ward.
“Yeah, and podcasts are so easy to consume! I can listen while doing other things and I like how the hosts often banter and have their own comments to add to whatever topic they’re discussing. It adds something human to what can sometimes seem inhumane,” said Wheelhouse.
Whilst constantly absorbing such graphic and grisly stories may seem challenging, these are stories that are ever present in the minds of young women. With ABS statistics from 2017 showing that 18 to 24-year-old women in Australia are the most likely age group to experience sexual harassment and as the stories of those such as Jill Meagher, Alison Baden-Clay and Karen Ristevski are splashed across Australian media, the potential dangers of violence can seem at times inescapable.
Emily Webb, a Melbourne based journalist, crime writer and the co-host of ‘Australian True Crime’, a podcast with half a million listeners every month, believes this is part of the reason for a rise in interest among young women.
“We have an ingrained sense that we have to take a bit of extra care about how we move around in the world. It’s not right that we have to do this, but it’s reality,” she says.
“For instance, when I’m walking the dog at night I am super conscious of my surroundings. When I travelled overseas, I was extra careful and when I use public transport I am always scoping out the train platform, or carriage to look for any signs of risk to myself or my children.”
Whilst a healthy dose of caution may be harmless, Professor John Dale of the University of Technology Sydney worries that engaging in too much true crime media can cause harm. From paranoia to fear to a skewed idea of how dangerous the world really is.
“I think a problem of true crime is that it isn’t a true reflection of our society, it rarely depicts what’s actually happening. If someone watches true crime too much, they begin to believe what they see on TV is what is actually happening behind the scenes in their neighbourhood all the time. It can affect your perception and perspective of things.”
In a paper published titled ‘Captured by True Crime: Why Are Women Drawn to Tales of Rape, Murder, and Serial Killers?’, psychology professors Amanda Vicary and Chris Fraley outline the “vicious cycle” that can occur from absorbing too much true crime. That is, a woman may fear to become a victim, so they turn to true crime to learn strategies and techniques to stay safe. With every book the woman reads they increase their awareness, but also their fear which can potentially lead to more serious mental health issues.
However, for Emily Webb, such a possibility seems to be far-fetched. Rather than finding an issue with her mental health, her extensive research and lifelong fascination with true crime have led to her finding a community of women, whether they be podcasters, journalists, authors or her listeners. From discussing stories of domestic abuse, sexual assault and much more, a sort of solidarity is formed.
“I was always at the true crime section in libraries and there was always at least one other woman there scanning the titles as well… In the past it was almost like something you’d keep secret but now it seems everyone’s into it!”
See the vodcast here.