Anyone who’s ever delved into the world of true crime media has heard of Jeffrey Dahmer, one of America’s most notorious serial killers. His story has been told time and time again, and now Netflix has added a different one to the Dahmer canon. This time, telling the story from the victims’ point of view.
The series, appropriately titled “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” doesn’t shy away from the truly horrifying details of Dahmer’s crimes and the events that led him to become a serial killer.
However, like every true crime story under the sun, it has been sensationalized and glamorized to the point where the victims and their families are an afterthought, sometimes not even thought about.
With this, one has to ask themself, how do you consume true crime content ethically? And is that even possible? True crime has changed dramatically since its inception, but in recent years it has made its way to YouTube, where the Daily Beast reports people putting on makeup or eating mukbangs while talking about these very real things.
While I understand that content creators must find ways to make their content entertaining, these mediums feel reductive and, frankly, dehumanizing.
Dahmer has been dead and gone for nearly 28 years, but the families of his victims will always be dealing with the consequences of his actions. Whenever a new television series, 60-minute broadcast, or film is made about him, the families of his victims get several pestering phone calls from journalists asking for a comment, which in effect forces them to relive the death of their loved one over and over again.
It wasn’t until a year ago when I came across Kendall Rae, a true crime YouTuber, that I thought about how the focus is usually geared toward the perpetrator, not the victims.
You could probably name several serial killers off the top of your head, but could you name any of the victims? If the answer is no, then you probably need to rethink how you consume this type of content.
Kendall Rae is different from many true crime YouTubers such as Bailey Sarian, who is best known for her makeup and murder mystery series. While Sarian chooses not to name victims in her videos for lack of permission, Rae attempts to humanize the victims, often going into great detail about their lives before touching upon the actual crime.
Rae often invites family members of victims to discuss their cases on her platform, which often go unsolved by their local police departments due to a lack of resources, evidence or simply not caring enough to investigate.
In one of Rae’s videos, she speaks with the families of people who have been missing or dead for several years with little to no investigation. One family member, Eric Carter-Landin, describes the agony of losing his baby brother Jacob, whose murder has gone unsolved for 35 years.
“You’re talking about the worst day in someone’s life,” Carter-Landin said. “This is a real person. When Jacob died, it was the worst day of my life.”
Another family member, Amanda Shirley, describes how this is not something they can turn off.
“Our stories are not just stories that you sit around a campfire and talk about,” Shirley said. “We live with this every day. We’re not doing this for entertainment.”
Shirley’s brother, Donald Fickey, was presumably shot and killed in 2016, but it took several years for the manner of his death to be changed from suicide to undetermined.
Next time you want to dive into a true crime podcast or YouTube series, be conscious of it. Is the host merely serving their own interests or are they actively trying to bring in support to make sure these cases get solved? Even signing a petition or donating money to these families goes a long way.
Before you glamorize the perpetrator, think about the victims. Because there would be no Jeffrey Dahmers or Ted Bundys without the trail of misery they’ve left behind.