If you haven’t noticed, women are obsessed with true crime.
Now, I’m not one to make broad sweeping generalizations. Of course, some women could care less about crime. But the large numbers in which women flock to consume crime shows, websites, podcasts and other media is a marketer’s dream.
Sadly, the reality behind the growing number of female true crime consumers is bleak. It stems from the female existence of victimization.
While most of us aren’t likely to get murdered, we all know someone who has been a victim of sexual violence or intimate partner violence. The desire to get inside the head of a killer could be looked at akin to a survival mechanism. A way to silence the anxiety, and find the confidence to keep going in the words of a survivor.
And in the midst of current hype around the capture of the Golden State Killer, in the middle of an unconventional anxiety cure, is a man named Paul Holes. He’s a retired criminalist from the Sacramento PD.
Women and Crime
It’s estimated that three women a day are killed by their partners in an act of deranged domestic violence. That’s three too many, but that number pales in comparison to 600 women a day who are sexually assaulted.
The bottom line: women grow up in a culture of victimization.
The statistics get worse when you start breaking down violence against women of color. Black women are 35% more likely to be a victim of intimate partner violence than white women, and are statistically less likely to reach out for help.
That’s partly because systemic stereotypes are prevalent in social services and other state run programs, keeping women from getting the help they need.
For Native American women, more than half have been victims of sexual assault and a daunting 48% of native women surveyed by the National Institute of Justice report having been stalked.
A 2014 study highlighted by the organization RAINN suggests 1 in 9 girls will be sexually assaulted during adolescence, compared to 1 in 53 boys.
When it comes to true crime, you can’t separate the subject from the intersecting weave of topics that are kicked up in its wake. For instance, subjects like mental health, trauma and victimization.
While the above statistics remind us that anyone can be a victim and attacks occur for no rhyme or reason at all. Many women still appreciate true crime because they are interested studying heinous acts to determine what periferal patterns exist.
Some women find comfort in the right combination of emotional healing, morbid curiosity and empowerment that comes from a fascination with a wide range of crime stories.
As more and more women find themselves attracted to stories of true crime, people who don’t understand the phenomena may be wondering “What gives? What makes these women tick?”
A little bit of that is revealed in the viral success of Paul Holes.
#HotForHoles: A Viral Success
Yes, of course the women of true crime fandom read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara. They know that Paul Holes dutifully took McNamara from location to location on a tour of the Golden State Killer crimes.
She described him as gentle with a quiet resolve, professional but warm. I’d like to think they started the beginnings of a real friendship before she passed away. And, that for one afternoon in California, we were all along for the ride.
But what sent the fanbase spiraling out over Holes was the inexplicable capture of Joseph James D’Angelo (aka the alleged Golden State Killer) shortly after the release of the long awaited book.
The timing couldn’t have been better for creating an environment where something or someone would have a viral impact.
You have a long awaited book, a culture of women in true crime fandom who consumed it right away. And then, as if by some magical intervention of the late Michelle McNamara, an arrest in 30-years-old crimes.
But it wasn’t a magical intervention. It was the diligent police work that McNamara has described in loving detail, and laid at the feet of criminalist Paul Holes.
It wasn’t just McNamara who acknowledged Holes hard work.
In the aftermath of the arrest, press conferences and news reports frequently mentioned Holes.
The typically-indifferent world of Reddit was excited about Holes. Even the hosts of My Favorite Murder couldn’t get enough Holes and had him appear on the show, fanning the flames of viral fandom to a large audience of mostly women.
The Age of Media
Marketing trends don’t occur in a vacuum, they occur in an incubator.
The timing of the arrest of the Golden State Killer, coupled with the launch of McNamara’s hit book and boosted by a great deal of media attention helped Holes get the spotlight for his contribution to society.
He became viral because the right audience of curious and empowered women was ready to embrace #HotForHoles.
It’s evident that the fascination between women and true crime is here to stay. At least as long as the existence of being a woman in society mandates that you subject yourself to harassment and abuse.
In an indignant feat of viral activism another movement, #MeToo, has ensured we don’t forget the plight of being a woman in society. Increasingly, women are using social media as a tool to organize, dissent and come together as people. It unifies us and fortifies us as a group against the world.
But if the viral success of Paul Holes tells us anything it’s that in a culture of trauma and victimization that seems almost hopeless, we can’t lose faith. After all, they caught the Golden State Killer, and that has to count for something!
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