"THIS is not some Halloween story," says Glenda, one of the characters in the new Netflix dramatisation of the Jeffrey Dahmer story.

Following the arrest of the serial killer, in the 10-part miniseries, the media begins to swarm around their apartment building, as do curious onlookers looking to quench a taste for the macabre.

"This," she says, "is my life."

Where the scriptwriters show empathy for this character and the impact of finding herself caught up in a deeply distressing and unwanted drama, is where the creators of the dramatisation fail in real life.

When Netflix released Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story late last month it quickly became not just the streaming service's most-watched title of that week but also its most popular series debut.

In the first week alone it racked up around 200 million viewing hours, nearly three times as many as the next most watched series. Not bad.

Well, bad for the families of Dahmer's victims. Between 1978 and 1991, Dahmer murdered 17 boys and men in Ohio and Wisconsin. The details of his crimes are horrific to the point of incomprehension and are well documented, in a wealth of media coverage, documentaries, books and films.

At the release of Monster, very quickly there was dismay expressed by family members who claimed Netflix had not forewarned them of the programme's release.

Rita Isbell, the sister of Errol Lindsey, one of Dahmer’s victims, wrote an essay for Insider news website detailing how she felt the streaming service should have forewarned her family, and others, of the imminent release of the programme. "They didn’t ask me anything," she said, "They just did it."

As a journalist or filmmaker, if you are reflecting on your work in any meaningful depth then there often is – and should be – a sense of unease about the stories you tell and how you approach telling them.

Perhaps, once you've examined your efforts, you'll find your conscience clear, but there's no way of working among human distress and not fretting about the real-world impact of your writing.

A story may be in the public interest, but is it in the interest of those whose story it is?

There are simple questions that should always be scrutinised: Is this exploitation and is exploitation possible to avoid? Can the victims be centred? Are we humanising evil and is that bad? People do evil things and it's instructive to attempt to understand how they reach that point.

Channel 5 has a miniseries in the works about the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, killed in Soham in 2002 by Ian Huntley, and it brings with it the same issue – how soon is too soon to fictionalise, and risk sensationalising, these distressing stories?

A spokesperson for the channel has said it has endeavoured to tell the story "authentically and sensitively" with "nuance and a sense of realism".

Monster would like to be a show with nuance and authenticity but it lacks the introspection or depth to achieve it. Yes, it covers the fact that institutional and personal homophobia and racism led to the police allowing Dahmer to slip their notice over many years.

But this comes across very much as a tick box exercise without any real exploration of these issues. In one episode the show demonstrates what it might have been. It focuses on the life of Tony Hughes, another Dahmer victim, and gives colour and light to that life.

This, though, turns into a device, not to prioritise the victim, but to make the viewer care enough about him that our disgust is heightened by a closing scene of Dahmer eating Tony's heart.

Conversely, the BBC's The Investigation told the story of Kim Wall, the journalist murdered in Copenhagen in 2017 by a man she went to interview.

It is an elegant and unhurried piece of storytelling helped, in great part, by the fact the filmmaker Tobias Lindholm worked with Kim's family in the creation of the piece.

The series, so different to Monster, felt very much like an antidote to the glossy, superficial true crime fever infecting television and streaming services.

It would be illiberal and somewhat ridiculous to suggest these stories should not be told but those with the privilege of storytelling should acknowledge the weight of that responsibility, particularly when those worst affected are still alive.

It cannot be hagiography but it must respect the dignity of real people, and their fragility.

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