Opinion | True Crime Stories Cause True Harm – The New York Times

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Guest Essay

Ms. Nichol is a writer and activist whose sister was murdered 30 years ago.
In the 1990s you would have been hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t know the name of my sister Polly Klaas. I was 6 years old when a stranger abducted 12-year-old Polly from our bedroom on the evening of Oct. 1, 1993. Her face quickly became a fixture on nightly news, her name featured prominently in headlines alongside fearmongering about crime rates. News crews broadcast from our living room and remained camped in front of our house during the two-month search before her body was found.
Though the media frenzy should have ended there, it only intensified, fueling a political climate primed for reactionary reprisal. Polly’s kidnapping from our middle-class, white, suburban community triggered a national outcry for punishment and retribution.
In the next few years, true crime began to morph into the media obsession it is today. Last year, The Hollywood Reporter alerted its readers to “30 True-Crime Series to Binge Right Now.” As I write this, nearly half of Apple’s top 20 podcasts in the United States are devoted to true crime, and the internet is saturated with recommendations for the best new true crime books to read.
One might argue that this genre honors victims and those who solved or sought to solve the cases. However, as a survivor whose tragedy continues to be exploited by creators of true crime stories, I know the personal pain of this appropriation, as well as how coverage of these high-profile cases can contribute to broader injustices. The exploitation of victims’ stories often carries a steep cost for their families as their tragedies are commodified and their privacy repeatedly violated for mass consumption.
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