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The trial of Amanda Knox shows how we demonise female sexuality

We love a monster. And we really love when these monsters are pretty young women, writes Lorraine Courtney.

Lorraine Courtney Freelance journalist

ON 2 NOVEMBER 2007, Amanda Knox arrived home to her apartment in Perugia, Italy, to find her British flatmate Meredith Kercher dead.

Her subsequent murder trial dominated headlines for most of 2008 and 2009. The sordid story that was rehashed over and over again in the media was that after an orgy went wrong, Amanda Knox, an exchange student from America, and her Italian boyfriend murdered Kercher.

Knox had already spent two years in an Italian prison before she was first found guilty of the murders in 2009, in an ignominious trial. She was sentenced to 26 years in prison.

A subsequent appeal exonerated her and Knox returned home to Seattle in 2011. Two years later, she was declared guilty again, but in 2015 she was finally absolved by the Italian Supreme Court. It found what it called “stunning flaws” in the investigation.

It’s worth remembering, that someone else was convicted of the murder. Loads of forensic evidence implicated Rudy Guede, who left Italy right after the murder and was arrested in Germany. He was later convicted of sexual assault and murder.

Guede had Kercher’s blood on his hands and left other evidence behind; there is no evidence placing Knox or her ex-boyfriend in Kercher’s bedroom.

How the public and media treat women

Netflix’s new documentary Amanda Knox takes an in-depth look into the evidence and includes interviews with Knox, her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, chief prosecutor Giuliano Mignini and Nick Pisa, the Daily Mail reporter covering the trial.

The documentary isn’t so much about a murder but about how the public and media treat women.

“There are those who believe in my innocence and those who believe in my guilt. There is no in-between,” Knox says in a voiceover.

If I’m guilty, I’m the ultimate figure to fear, because I’m not the obvious one. But, on the other hand, if I’m innocent, it means that everyone is vulnerable, and that is everyone’s nightmare. Either I’m a psychopath in sheep’s clothing, or I am you.

That’s the choice she puts out for us.

Trial of the century

The documentary shows that a mismanaged police investigation and sensationalised media coverage turned Knox’s predicament into Italy’s trial of the century. The documentary concludes that Knox was innocent.

Joan Smith is the writer of Misogynies, a book that describes how often criminal investigations are bungled because the police’s preconceptions about women prevent them from seeing the real evidence.

Knox’s case is a prime example of this, spoiled by wild assumptions about what this young American girl must be like. Her failure to grieve all day for her friend Meredith condemned Knox in many eyes, although few of us tend to cry aloud if we’re mourning.

The evidence that she was “a sexual thrill-seeker” made her, in judicious Italian eyes, a callous criminal, capable of murder. She was relentlessly slut-shamed.

Pisa emerges as the ultimate unscrupulous reporter, comparing landing a front-page story to the thrill of having sex. Pisa took the prosecutor’s theory of a “sex game gone wrong,” and ran with it.

“To see your name on the front page with a great story that everyone’s talking about… it’s just a fantastic buzz. I’d like to say it’s like having sex or something like that, you know?” he said.

He admits to feeding the image of Knox as a “sex-crazed man-eater” by publishing photos of an old MySpace profile (where she calls herself as Foxy Knoxy) as well as her private prison diaries.

“A man would never think to do this”

Prosecutor Mignini, who compares himself to Sherlock Holmes, was the first to suspect she had something to do with Kercher’s murder, just because the body had been found covered by a blanket.

“A man would never think to do this,” he tells us. He didn’t like the fact that Knox kissed Sollecito while they were investigating the crime scene and considered this gesture tantamount to a confession.

Knox’s perceived guilt was because of misogyny and Italy’s Roman Catholic values. Italy is a country where Catholicism still underpins attitudes towards female sexuality, even as this is grotesquely juxtaposed with Silvio Berlusconi’s television channels where skimpily clad women writhe around for male pleasure.

This misogyny comes through in Mignini, when he calls Knox “totally irrational,” “uninhibited,” and the type of girl who “brings boys home.” This then leads the prosecutor to arrive at the utterly unsubstantiated theory that Kercher had to have been murdered in some sort of tawdry sexual tryst.

Knox’s sex life was enough to vilify her in the press and ensure her guilt in the Italian criminal system. And sadly, they still seem to believe that a young American woman – not the man who left his DNA all over the place – was fully responsible for the brutal, sexually-motivated murder.

We love a monster. And we really love when these monsters are pretty young women. Knox enjoyed sex, therefore she must be a murderer.

Read: Ignore the sexist advice – wear your engagement ring with pride, ladies>

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About the author:

Lorraine Courtney  / Freelance journalist

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