From Baby Reindeer to You: Do Netflix crime series teach people how to be stalkers?

These shows have us glued to our screens but experts could say there could be a dark side to this type of entertainment.

Trigger warning: this article contains references to stalking.

In recent years, the proliferation of true crime dramas on streaming platforms has ignited extensive debate. While these shows typically offer gripping narratives and suspenseful plots designed to hook audiences, there's an increasing concern regarding their potential influence on vulnerable individuals, especially those grappling with mental health challenges. One such concern revolves around whether these shows inadvertently serve as a how-to guide for stalkers.

At the forefront of this discussion are popular Netflix series' like You and Baby Reindeer, bringing renewed attention to the portrayal of stalking behaviour in entertainment media. Indeed, there appears to be an endless stream of popular Netflix shows around this theme. Just this year, audiences have raved about American Nightmare, Lover, Stalker, Killer, and Can I Tell You a Secret, among others.

true crime netflix. Photo: Netflix
There has been an explosion of true crime content on streaming services in recent years. Photo: Netflix/American Nightmare

These shows delve into the dark and unsettling world of stalking, portraying characters who engage in obsessive and often dangerous behaviour, many times escalating to murder. While they offer compelling storylines and complex characters, they also raise ethical questions about their portrayal of stalking and its effects on viewers, particularly those who may be susceptible to similar behaviour.


You, a psychological thriller series, follows the story of Joe Goldberg, a charming yet deeply disturbed bookstore manager who becomes fixated on the women he encounters. By contrast, Baby Reindeer uncovers the true story of a comedian's experience with a relentless female stalker, drawing from real-life events. The main character is portrayed by the actual victim, and the series includes details on exactly how the events unfolded, even incorporating the real emails that were sent.

While praised for their suspenseful plots and compelling characters, some critics argue that these shows may inadvertently provide a blueprint or masterclass for stalking behaviour, especially among those struggling with mental illness. The detailed strategies used by the protagonists, from surveillance techniques to manipulation tactics, could be replicated by vulnerable individuals already predisposed to obsessive behaviour.

The depiction of a stalker as a charismatic and resourceful individual in You has also raised concerns that the show—and those like it—could normalise and romanticise dangerous behaviour. Joe's ability to manipulate his surroundings and elude detection, often with a touch of dark humour, has led many viewers to sympathise with, nay even like him despite his morally reprehensible actions.

Caption. Photo: Netflix
You follows the disturbing story of Joe Goldberg, a charming yet deeply disturbed bookstore manager. Photo: Netflix

Clinical Psychotherapist at Seaway Counselling and Psychotherapy, Julie Sweet, says portraying stalking behaviour in a sensationalised or romanticised manner in this way can have serious consequences.

"If an attractive actor is cast to play the role of a perpetrator it can promote bias, toxic societal norms and attraction towards criminals," she explains.

"Furthermore it allows perpetrators to be given an elevated level where they’re idolised or revered. Physicality and attraction can influence viewers so it imperative this is taken seriously when portrayals are sexualised.

The focus must shift from the romanticisation of perpetrators to bringing about change through legislation that holds organisations and the media accountable for distorted narratives and sensationalised content."

Likewise, Baby Reindeer portrays the stalker, Martha Scott, in a complex light, highlighting her mental health struggles and the failures of the system to provide her with adequate support. While the series clearly aims to offer a nuanced exploration of her character, there are fears that it could inadvertently glorify her actions and make them seem somehow more acceptable.

The intense focus on the stalkers' perspectives in these shows may also contribute to a lack of empathy for the victims. By humanising the perpetrators and delving into their motivations, there is a risk of downplaying the trauma experienced by those who are targeted.

Jaimie Bloch, Clinical Director of MindMovers Psychology, says the effect these shows can have is very dependent on how the protagonists are characterised.

Martha Baby Reindeer
Martha's interest in her victim plays out in a montage of bad outfits, sloppily applied pink lipstick and unlikely stories. Photo: Netflix

"Depending on the portrayal it can be educational or it can be triggering and unhelpful depending on the show and how they are choosing to portray the experience and characters," Bloch explains. "The main issue is that these portrayals when done in a romantic or funny light can have an unhelpful impact on viewers, and it can make it more difficult for victims to recognise and report stalking behaviour."

However, it's important to note that the creators of both You and Baby Reindeer have stated their intention is to shed light on the realities of stalking and its impact on victims. They argue that by portraying the experiences of both the stalkers and the stalked, they can foster greater awareness and understanding of this complex issue, rather than serving as a guidebook for would-be stalkers.

Penn Badgley, who portrays You's stalker-turned-killer lead Joe Goldberg, has frequently responded to criticism by discouraging viewers from rooting for his character, asserting that the series is a condemnation rather than a romanticisation of the mind and actions of its protagonist.

Similarly, Richard Gadd, the actor and writer behind Baby Reindeer, has spoken about the importance of raising awareness about the issue of stalking. He has emphasised the need for greater support for both victims and perpetrators, highlighting the inadequacies of the current system.

Martha Scott Baby Reindeer Photo: Netflix
Martha Scott, the central character in Baby Reindeer, is portrayed as a complex individual who grapples with mental health issues. Photo: Netflix

However, Bloch warns there are potential risks associated with depicting stalkers as complex, charismatic, and even likeable characters. "It can minimise and trivialise problematic and aggressive behaviour as well as romanticise and normalise domestic violence," she told Yahoo Lifestyle.


On the flip side, these portrayals can help identify the less likely bad guy, Bloch says. "It can also shine a light on this idea that bad guys don’t always look and sound how we think they should. That the reality is often the people who commit these violent and abusive acts can be charming and charismatic and often people we know and trust."

Ultimately, the debate surrounding shows like You and Baby Reindeer is complex and multifaceted. While these series undoubtedly have entertainment value, their portrayal of stalking raises important questions about the ethical responsibilities of content creators and the potential impact on vulnerable individuals. The question remains, can watching true crime series influence individuals who are already predisposed to obsessive behaviour?

Bloch says warnings on this type of content are important. "I think as always viewer discretion advertisement is important to warn the audience so that those viewing can choose to consume or not and know it may be triggering material," she said.

"These shows should focus on making it clear that stalking is a serious criminal offence. Education should address myths about stalking and emphasise that people who experience stalking are not responsible for it."

If you or someone you know is being stalked or monitored, you can call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732, text 0458 737 732 or visit our website for online chat and video call services.

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