Opinion: Tainted Love: The Romanticization of Serial Killers

Content warning: this article mentions abuse, rape and murder.



Photo courtesy of @ahscults on Instagram

It’s Friday night. You’re tired but not tired enough to go to sleep, so instead, you’re sitting on the couch and scrolling through your phone. After a few moments, you turn the TV on and log onto Netflix. You begin to scroll. Then you see it: “DAHMER” in bright yellow letters. Evan Peters, of American Horror Story fame, sits in the middle of it with messy blond hair and metal-framed glasses. “Oh…” You think, “He looks good.”


You aren’t the first to think so; you certainly won’t be the last. Even serial killers have their fangirls. Ted Bundy proposed to Carole Ann Boone while being questioned on the stand during his marriage trial. John Wayne Gacy, who killed and raped thirty-three young men, received enough love letters to fill a book. Women still send Richard Ramirez, the “Nightstalker,” fan mail and marriage proposals. He died in 2013.


This strange phenomenon is called hybristophilia, a type of paraphilia characterized by sexual desires and attraction towards people who have committed horrific crimes such as murder and rape. There is no definite cause. Some theorize that it’s caused by the desire to fix them, to see the broken person inside, or a base want for fifteen minutes of fame. It is a condition that is more commonly observed in young women and survivors of past abuse. “If there was one thing that was common to all these women, it was probably insecurity and a willingness to have their sense of self-determined by the men they were involved with.” Said author Elizabeth Woollett in an interview with Vice.


The story is still the same: a woman falls for a man who puts on a darling smile in front of the courtroom camera. Their story doesn’t end there. After being put behind bars, these women are their chosen killer’s only link to the outside world. “You can decide when to make the visit, when to accept the phone call, or if you will accept the call, and you are that man’s primary link with the outside world. So as you can clearly see, it’s a compelling position to be in.” Sheila Isenberg wrote in Women Who Love Men Who Kill. This is their way of claiming back the power that was taken from them in the first place


It’s important to note that the coverage of these women either infantilizes or demonizes them. They are either helpless waifs or scheming temptresses, opposed to being truly humanized. They do not deserve to be idealized or pitied. Yes, there is manipulation at play, serial killers are notoriously charismatic and intelligent people. However, that shouldn’t be the only thing to consider.


The next time you watch a Ted Bundy thirst trap, think about the grander psychological and cultural context at play.


By Cecilia Thompson, Contributing Writer


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