On a recent Saturday night, perched over a glass of ale in a local brewery, I shared with a friend an idea I had for a true crime television show.
“I’d pitch it to Investigation Discovery,” I said.
We’d already established that we were both true crime television junkies, so I knew this would pique her interest.
“It’d be a show that would show case homicides against prostitutes. I’ve already come up with a name and everything.”
I couldn’t remember exactly at the time the name I’d landed on and decided to keep. I’d generated a few ideas until I decided on “I Am Victim.”
She turned her face back towards her water glass as if she was considering my idea.
“It’d never work,” she said. “They’ve polled people and they don’t care about people like that.”
“There’s always some problems with all my great ideas,” I believe is what I said.
We rambled on about what social scientists call the “white woman syndrome,” a term used to explain the short-lived news coverage and lack of public interest when murder victims are members of minority groups.
If you are blonde and blue-eyed, and the victim of a homicide, you’re most likely to get more attention from the news media. But if you’re a prostitute or homeless, you’re also less likely to get attention from the news media and even potentially from the police. These are what are called “devalued” victims.
My friend Patty Vance has her whiteness going for her, but the prostitution works against her. I don’t know if those two aspects of her case simply cancel one another out. There should not be an algebra of eligibility when it comes to getting justice.
I do know that she is lucky that her brother went on to work for the San Francisco Police Department. The investigator currently at work on her case is a friend of her brother in fact. Another lucky stroke.
Back to my idea for an Investigation Discovery series. I get what my friend was saying. I understand that sex workers are not a population that garners much sympathy. But for the most part that’s because sex work is generally misunderstood by the public. There is no better time than now for a show that focuses on victims who’ve been overlooked is what I’d argue. Series like “Breaking Bad” and “Shameless” that depict their main characters in all their flawed glory resonated, for whatever reason, with the main stream and are now household names.
So, I think audiences are ready to support a show like I have in mind. If we can identify with fictional characters who are complicated, and less than perfect, why can’t we identify with real people with those same qualities? Back in 2010 there was a show called “Hookers: Saved on the Strip.” Maybe because there was redemption built into the story line, that made it digestible. Then again, the show didn’t last.
Maybe the name needs work: “I, Victim?” “I Am A Victim?” I’m not giving up hope that this sort of show might one day make it to the airwaves. A show like this could put the “real” back into reality television. But more importantly, it could bring much needed attention to cases that have been neglected for far too long.