7News reports on how the popularity among younger people of true-crime podcasts, books, and television shows is driving interest in criminology study. A recently broadcast true-crime series on the network saw females between 25 and 50 account for more than 60 per cent of the audience.

While crime is merely entertainment for a growing true-crime community worldwide, an increasing number of Australian students are electing to enrol in criminology courses at university. Murdoch University in Western Australia runs Bachelor courses in criminology, forensic biology and toxicology, and has recently seen a considerable increase in enrolments, with approximately two-thirds of students being female.

Elsewhere in Australia too, criminology is hot, with nearly 40 courses available as either a degree or a major. Dr Michael Salter, Associate Professor of Criminology at the University of New South Wales, says crime has political importance in western countries, with elections hingeing on debates about crime and safety, adding that the popularity of criminology courses may also partly be down to television shows: “There is the belief that crime holds an insight into human nature. Then there are the perceptions driven by the television they’re consuming – crime is a sort of sexy battleground between good and evil. Criminologists are often portrayed in television as heroes. When we’re discussing enrolments, students often bring up shows like Dexter.”

Dr Xanthe Mallett is a forensic anthropologist and criminologist who has consulted on many television true-crime investigations, as well as authoring books in the genre. She’s also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle and agrees there’s been a dramatic increase in criminology enrolments: “At Newcastle, we started with 100 students three years ago. Last year there were 180, and this year there are 300. Looking around the lecture theatre, you’ll see the predominance of young women students, and it reflects the broader interest in true-crime books, podcasts and documentaries.”

Symbol of justice over a courtroom

The Australian Students Working for a Better Criminal Justice System

Dr Mallett added, “Many of our students want their future to be in community corrections, in policing or in juvenile justice. They want a really practical career – working to improve the criminal justice system.”

That’s a sentiment that seems to be the motivation behind one University of Newcastle student’s decision to carry an interest in crime over to study. Chelsea Findley is studying two degrees at the university, one of which is a Bachelor of Social Science with a major in criminology.

She says, “Aside from always being fascinated with crime, what motivated me to study criminology was the human price of crime and the effect on victims – the taking of a basic human right from someone. So I started investigating and found I could have a career in criminology, and study crime and the factors that cause people to commit it.”

Findley acknowledges that her interest in crime has coincided with the increased popularity of true-crime across all forms of media. “I think there is a whole community now of true-crime enthusiasts out there. Now you can walk up to someone and have a discussion about it without them raising an eyebrow. Interest in true-crime is now mainstream.” 

She has recently started working full-time as a case manager with Corrective Services, and she hopes to study the reasons behind crime in more depth. “I’d like to do a lot more in academia. One facet that fascinates me is studying acquired brain injury and why it affects the offending factors. Some injuries are undiagnosed until after conviction and sentencing. I’m finding my studies overlap – I can put into practice what I’ve learnt at university.”

Read more on this story from 7News.