Opinion: We are too desensitized to talking about crime

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In the light of the Gabby Petito national coverage, there is something to be said about the way we talk about missing people and murder victims. Consuming true crime content can become part of the problem. (AP Photo/Amber Baesler)

True crime has become one of the most popular subjects of entertainment. From podcasts to documentaries, to entire television channels dedicated to discussing crime, there is a huge market of people ready to consume such content.

The subjects can vary. There are puzzling missing person cases, murder cases with twists and turns, mysterious paranormal cases and many others. The content has become increasingly popular, especially among women. As someone who enjoys true crime myself, there is a fascination with hearing about crimes. There is something about it that just draws people in.

In recent years, multiple cases have gripped everyday people and caused them to fall into research holes. There are the famous cases of Amanda Knox, Caylee Anthony and most recently, the case of missing woman Gabrielle Petito. However, there is an issue with the prevalence of true crime entertainment in our society and it starts with the entertainment aspect.

Between trying to solve missing persons cases through a podcast or listening to a documentary about murder while we eat take-out, people are seeing true crime as less of a tragedy and more as a form of fun relaxation. When we become desensitized to things like kidnapping and murder, we forget who all of this should really be about: the victims.

Suzanne Morphew went missing in 2020 on Mother’s Day. After doing some research on her case, I found how disrespectful fans of true crime content can be. (Chafee County Sheriff’s Office)

Last year, a woman in Colorado went missing on Mother’s Day. Her name is Suzanne Morphew. I became interested in the case when a friend of mine told me she knew some of the people involved. After that, I began casually following updates on the search. In that time, the case began to be sensationalized when there were possible links between her disappearance and her relationship with her husband.

I joined a Facebook group dedicated to finding Morphew earlier this year, since I live a state over in Utah and also wanted updates on the search. When I joined the group, I was surprised by what I saw. The group wasn’t treating this with the care and respect I expected. Instead, it was like a forum for a mystery novel. People were speculating about the involvement of people who were never considered suspects, slandering Morphew’s character and even discussing in detail how she may have passed away.

I was appalled. This was a missing person who needed our help. I thought we were meant to be advocates, but instead, I was attacked when I suggested we be more respectful toward the victim and her family in the group. After receiving such backlash, I left the group shortly. I couldn’t believe how disrespectful people were being. One person even told me “we aren’t her advocates.”

Therein lies the problem with so much true crime content. There is not enough delicacy given to the fact that the stories we are consuming are about real people, with families who are probably still dealing with grief from the day that loved ones went missing. When the content becomes more focused on entertainment rather than spreading awareness about victims and getting justice, all empathy is tossed out the window in favor of gossip and theorizing.

As we continue to consume this content in the future, we should self-reflect on the purpose of the content we are consuming. Is it respectful to the victims and the families they’ve left behind? Is the purpose of the content to bring awareness or get justice, over entertainment? If these criteria are not met, then perhaps this is not the form of entertainment we should be consuming.

I have taken great care to re-evaluate my own consumption of this genre as I have gone on. I have prioritized finding people who want to involve the family in discussions of the victims, or people who avoid sensationalism and focus on the facts. As the true crime community continues to increase in popularity, I hope we can find it in ourselves to remember the victims above all else.

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