How Gabby Petito brought attention to our fascination with true crime

Villanova expert also reveals focus on true crime stories we pass over
A missing poster for Gabby Petito.
A missing poster for Gabby Petito. Photo credit Octavio Jones/Getty Images
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KYW Newsradio In Depth
How Gabby Petito brought attention to our fascination with true crime, and to specific stories
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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — True crime is a genre that fascinates the American public, from documentaries to podcasts and even news stories that grab national attention like the Gabby Petito case.

We see a particularly large fan base among young women, the same demographic that are most often the victims in these stories.

Dr. Bess Rowen, Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre and Gender and Women Studies at Villanova University, gave us some insight as to why that parallel exists.

"Part of it is that they're cautionary," she says. "We think we're getting information about how to keep ourselves safe from these other stories."

Of course, that isn't necessarily true.

Dr. Bowen teaches a course on gender and true crime, where she tells her students that the narratives that true crime stories create don't always match reality.

"I think it's really crucial that when we look at these stories...we look at what's alighted, what's passed over," she said.

She also recognizes that those narratives can play into gender and race stereotypes.

"Young white women are seen as particularly innocent," which is why their stories get more attention than missing women of color.

Gabby Petito's case has shined a light on that point, which gives Dr. Rowen hope.

"I am heartened by the fact that as much as people did want to help with something like the Gabby Petito case," Dr. Rowen added, "people also immediately said, 'Well, it's really interesting that this case is getting so much attention when there are all of these other women over here who are missing who haven't garnered this kind of attention.'"

Dr. Rowen joined the KYW Newsradio In Depth podcast to discuss the appeal of true crime, the pros and cons of a case getting such public attention, and how to be more equitable in the stories we follow and share.

Listen to the full conversation in our player above.