Women are leading the justice reform media movement. Dotty Winters gets a bit fangirl-y with one of its key players, true crime writer and podcaster Rebecca Lavoie.
It’s no secret that I am a bit obsessed with stories of potential wrongful convictions. I rattle through an enormous number of podcasts on the topic, and most of those recommendations come to me as homework from one source, the Crime Writers On… podcast. A ship expertly steered by journalist, true crime author and queen of the audible raised eyebrow, Rebecca Lavoie.
When she agreed to be interviewed by Skype, I’m not going to lie to you, I knew it was going to take a lot of effort not to fangirl all over the place.
Crime Writers On… is the well-informed and occasionally snarky book club for all things to do with media, justice reform and true crime stories.
The four presenters (Lavoie and husband and co-author Kevin Flynn, noir-fiction novelist Toby Ball and licensed private investigator, former criminal defence investigator and writer Lara Bricker) cover the major media players in this space (Making a Murderer, THAT Amanda Knox documentary, Accused) and smaller, newer offerings (In the Dark, Phoebe’s Fall).
The chemistry of the show is what makes it so compelling. Despite the sometimes dark subject matter, it’s considered, smart, human and light. “We aren’t attorneys, we aren’t legal experts. We talk about all sort of true crime media – we still have fun (as well as disagreements),” says Lavoie.
“Lara and Toby are saints – they let me expose who they are as people. For me that’s a big part of why it works. We do take flack for the light-heartedness though. Often we are laughing at the way media works. Media is weird. Journalists laugh all the time; it gets them through. If people don’t want that, it’s just not the podcast for them.”
I ask Lavoie about how she feels about the criticism, which is often levelled at shows in this genre, that there is insufficient focus on the victim. “Yeah, we definitely get criticised for that,” she agrees, “It’s a tough one; these stories often become stories at the point that there is a ‘bad guy’ to point to, someone on trial, or in prison.
“It’s a question of access, really. Families of victims often believe that the right person is in prison. This can partly be because they’ve worked so closely with the prosecutor and maybe also because it’s part of moving on. Historically, crime media has been very victim focused, and now we are looking at different stories.
“One of my favourite true crime things of all time is The Staircase – I love that sooo much. Even though it is from the defence standpoint, the impact and story of the victim is there throughout.”
As a listener, I feel as though the wrongful conviction/justice reform media movement is being led by women. I tested this theory with Lavoie and she agrees: “Women are the people listening. You can see that in the advertisers who are featured. They make their decisions based on the demographics. Women have a different perspective on having to fight for fairness.”
“When I’ve met with prosecutors, they 100 per cent get up in the morning to do their job as they see it. They aren’t getting up thinking: ‘How do we screw this guy?’”
Lavoie adds: “There was an article recently about thought leaders in podcasting – they were all men, yet the most successful podcast of all time [Serial], was anchored by a woman with a largely female team.
“Since I’ve turned 40, I’ve become more comfortable at saying this stuff. I hate the terms that only apply to women – bossy, strident, uppity. If you look at how women are portrayed in stories, people sometimes say such loaded things about them. I work on the internet, which where this stuff lives. It makes me crazy. I am definitely more willing to speak up about it because we have an audience, and they don’t go away when we talk about this.”
Though women are at the helm of the media movement, there still haven’t been many major stories about women who may have been wrongfully convicted. I wanted Lavoie’s take on why that might be.
“A lot of the stories we hear most about are linked to the Innocence Project [a non-profit that aims to exonerate wrongly convicted people through DNA testing] and these largely represent male clients because they specialise in DNA exonerations. The crimes where women are wrongfully convicted are different; DNA evidence is less common. Often in these cases there hasn’t even been a crime committed, for example in the shaken-baby cases.
“I think the thing that hasn’t been done would be something which looked inside the prosecution office. It would be hard to do, but would be fascinating. It would need a really forward-thinking police department or prosecutor’s office willing to go on record about this. The current trend is that law enforcement is not coming across well. There are so many things going on.
“To understand how these things happen, I think we need to view them as doing a job. The way things are done must have been learned; it must happen because these behaviours have worked, or have been rewarded.
“When I’ve met with prosecutors, they 100 per cent get up in the morning to do their job as they see it. They aren’t getting up thinking: ‘How do we screw this guy?’ They see their job as being to get a conviction for this victim’s family. We need to understand what allows wrongful convictions to happen.”
Lavoie’s latest project is the These Are Their Stories podcast where she and Flynn indulge their love of the Law and Order series with guests. You don’t have to be a fan of the show to listen. They’ll be bringing their unique analysis, humour and insight to the table. I’ve added it to my late-night driving podcast rotation.
Elements of this interview where I fawned inexcusably or went off on lengthy true-crime tangents have been cut for your sanity and my dignity.
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Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.