I am a huge fan of crime shows on television. Shows like Criminal Minds, CSI, NCIS, and Law and Order have dominated the television screens of millions of Americans since their inception. I love them for the suspense, intrigue, and the stories of survival. However, pure entertainment is not the only thing viewers are getting when watching these shows. Researchers from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln surveyed hundreds of people about how often they watch different types of crime shows (e.g. crime dramas versus “real crime” shows) and found that the type of crime shows people watch influenced their perceptions on everything from the crime rate to their faith in the criminal justice system. (Watching the Detectives: Crime Programming, Fear of Crime, and Attitudes About the Criminal Justice System).
Also coming out of this research was a barely-explored notion that women who watch these fictional or “real crime” shows also view them as opportunities to learn personal safety tips. Of course I love the entertainment value as much as the next person but I have always believed it was just me who watched them and thought, “I wonder if that would really work to get me out of the same situation.”
A radio station who picked up on the research study hosted a call-in segment to see if this theory was right. Do women watch these clenching dramas for ideas on how to escape criminal situations? I listened with rapt attention to find out if there were others like me. It turns out that many women see these shows as a lesson in protecting themselves. The crimes portrayed in these shows hold the attention of many women because they know these crimes can occur in everyday life. Based on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln research, we know the people who watch crime shows are likely to believe the crime rate is higher and hold many other skewed perceptions. Perhaps their belief in being able to get out of a criminal situation safely by using tips they learned in a TV show is skewed as well.
Even though I work at the National Crime Prevention Council I have occasionally looked around in the middle of doing something and thought, “this is just like that scene from . . .” I guess I just can’t help but replay in my mind those few seconds that showed how the victim got away.
The research summary did not draw any conclusions about the pros or cons of deriving personal safety tips from crime shows. So now I’m left with the question: Is there anything wrong with viewers watching crime shows to get personal safety tips?
Note: NCPC has a wealth of crime prevention information at your fingertips. If you need to find personal safety tips, please visit: https://www.ncpc.org/topics/violent-crime-and-personal-safety.