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Greater Victoria psychologist shines light on series about 1997 Virk murder

‘Under The Bridge’ premiered on Hulu Wednesday, April 17, set to debut on Disney+ Canada on May 8
A Victoria child development psychologist who helped work on the Reena Virk murder case in 1997 hopes the new Hulu dramatization of the event remains respectful and raises awareness for bullying. (Black Press file photo)

A Greater Victoria psychologist hopes a new Hulu series about the murder of a Saanich teenager will remind viewers of the horrific incident, and shed light on youth violence and bullying.

Hulu’s new series, Under the Bridge, is based on the 1997 murder of 14-year-old Reena Virk who was beaten and killed by a group of teenagers following ostracizing and bullying from her peers.

Bonnie Leadbeater, a developmental psychologist and founding director of the Centre for Youth & Society at UVic, worked with the group of police who found Virk’s body while she was researching youth violence at the university.

“I feel ambivalent about watching it, I find it a little upsetting to go back to that time,” she said. “I think that it reminds us of what happened, how things are now, what the possibilities are. I think when that happened, they were talking about bullying and swarmings and stuff like that, now, people are less concerned in some ways about it.”

The eight-episode true-crime dramatization, based on the 2005 book of the same name by Rebecca Godfrey, was described as “respectful yet bland” by The Guardian.

“Incidences of bullying, incidences of drowning her, and some of the really horrific parts of this, I don’t know if they’re in there or not, shouldn’t be there. I think that it’s possible to make us recall these things without the certain, blatant violence that went on,” said Leadbeater.

She explained the show provides a good opportunity to create discussion around the event, however, there can be a fine line between taking advantage of a unique event and raising awareness.

Michael Arntfield, a former London Police Service detective and criminology academic, said whether a movie or series is sensationalizing a true crime story or not, is up to personal opinion.

He said he thought the controversial 2022 Netflix series about Milwaukee serial killer Jeffery Dahmer captured the story well, however, he had some insight as he had worked with a forensic psychologist who spent hundreds of hours interviewing Dahmer.

“You almost need to know the backstory to be able to appreciate it at a more intellectual level, and as social commentary versus just, ‘here’s a necrophile who murders and cannibalizes people’.

Arntfield said it is very easy to lose the plot.

“It is the easiest, laziest way to tell these stories, just by focusing on the crimes and the offender. It takes a much more rigorous process to look at the investigation, look at the toll on the families, and look at the toll on the collective trauma of communities. What is the legal and investigative legacy of these cases, what’s aged the best and what’s aged the worst in terms of how police prosecutors approach the case,” explained Arntfield.

After Virk’s murder, UVic formed a group that would become the Centre for Youth & Society, which got funding to study youth victimization and bullying and create anti-bullying campaigns across Greater Victoria schools.

“I’ve had lots of students at UVic who said, ‘We’re in this program and it has a lot of research showing endorsements, both from the teachers but also from the impact it has on decreasing aggressive behaviour, decreasing emotional problems, helping kids to learn socially responsible, helpful behaviours,’ [because] these kinds of things are incompatible with bullying,” said Leadbeater. “We hope, at least in young children, that will be the case that they learned a way to always be kind to people, to be helpful to people, to not bully.”

The show will become available on Disney+ in Canada on Wednesday, May 8.

Read More: Oscar nominee Gladstone stars as B.C.’s notorious Reena Virk case hits Hulu

Bailey Seymour

About the Author: Bailey Seymour

After graduating from SAIT and stint with the Calgary Herald, I ended up at the Nanaimo News Bulletin/Ladysmith Chronicle in March 2023
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