How Netflix’s “The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” Examines The Much-debated Link Between Crime And Mental Illness

The series has left many questioning whether the tag of “mental illness” can redeem serial killers from their notoriety.

The recent Netflix docudrama series “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” ran into hot waters for its humanized portrayal of the “Milwaukee Cannibal” Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer.

Dahmer was a serial killer and sex offender who was charged with the murder of 17 men and boys in the years 1978–91. 

His crimes involved shocking cases of necrophilia, cannibalism, and embalming. He also confessed his plan of constructing a private altar of his victims' skulls and bones in his apartment’s living room!

During his infamous trial, Dahmer was diagnosed with multiple mental health disorders—including psychotic disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

He pleaded guilty but insane to 15 counts of murder and was given a life sentence in prison.

The fictionalized miniseries went beyond sensationalized media headlines and examined the causal factors that triggered his sexual and homicidal crimes.

Dahmer’s childhood with unstable parental figures, his parents’ difficult divorce, his social withdrawal and substance abuse, and his personal struggle with homosexuality were all deemed contributing factors. Thanks to the controversial series, the larger-than-life persona of Dahmer emerges as an unfortunate victim of childhood trauma, gender dysphoria, and negative developmental experiences.

This near ‘whitewashing’ of Dahmer’s criminality, drawn from criminology and psychopathology, hasn’t sat well with Netflix’s audience and the families of Dahmer’s victims.

Their reactions have called into question the ‘trend’ of dissolving criminality with issues of social justice and mental health.

The explicitness of the series has also drawn flack, with the victims’ families claiming that it re-traumatized them about a sordid episode in their lives.

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