Trigger warning: discussions of serial killers
I will never forget the day that I was introduced to my first true crime podcast. After listening to NPR’s groundbreaking podcast “Serial,” I could not get enough of the genre. Podcasts, documentaries, books, etc. – I soaked it all in. Many of my coworkers share my same interest, while others will cover their ears and run from the room the moment the topic is brought up.
A few weeks ago, one of my coworkers and I were reflecting on our careers in the domestic violence field and she offhandedly mentioned previously working at a shelter while there was an active serial killer in the neighborhood. That remark about knocked me off of my chair. You better believe I went down a rabbit-hole in research about investigation and prosecution. It reminded me, yet again, about the compound traumas that survivors experience. It is very rare that the folks we work with are only experiencing the trauma of domestic violence. Most recently, our clients have been working to heal from the trauma of the pandemic, Winter Storm Uri, and the abuse from their partner.
When I began to think about the fear that the residents of that shelter must have felt not only from the dangerous partner they had fled from but also a mysterious lurking predator in the neighborhood, my heart further broke. How scary the world can be! The more I thought about it, I began to realize how many similarities there are between serial killers and domestic violence.
Many serial killers throughout history have focused on marginalized communities. Jack the Ripper infamously murdered sex workers in London in the late 1800s, preying on people society has deemed worthless. In a similar vein, although we know that domestic violence is an equal opportunity epidemic affecting all races, ages, educations, and socio-economic backgrounds, we also know that at the same time that “African American females experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than that of white females, and about 2.5 times the rate of women of other races.” Until we as a society truly believe in the inherent dignity and worth of our fellow humans regardless of race, sexuality, age, disability, work history, use of substances, religion, or interaction with the criminal justice system, abusive persons will continue to prey on those who they believe the world does not care about.
In 2019, the keynote speaker at our Conference on Crimes Against Women was John Douglas, whose career as an FBI profiler provided inspiration for television shows such as Criminal Minds and Mindhunter. Before hearing him present, I read his book, Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit. I was particularly struck by a passage he wrote, “Serial killers are, by definition, ‘successful’ killers, who learn from their experience. We’ve just got to make sure we keep learning faster than they do.” Again, I cannot help but compare that need for swift accountability to stopping serial domestic abuse: by holding offenders accountable, by taking allegations of domestic violence seriously, and by arresting and prosecuting offenders. We as a society affirm that it is not acceptable to hurt those you claim to love.
Over the years I have noticed a subtle change in how true crime and serial killers are discussed across the various platforms. Authors, podcast hosts and journalists have chosen to focus on the victims. Their stories, their families, and what was taken from them. The more we focus on survivors of domestic violence, their stories and how we can support them, the more we take away the power, authority, and the terror and control of the offender.
Written by Krista Fultz, director of advocacy and education at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support