I had vague memories of the story from 2007.
Meredith Kercher, a British student living in Italy, had been found dead in her bedroom, her throat slit.
Within days the police had arrested her roommate, a 20-year-old American woman called Amanda Knox, and Knox’s boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito.
What followed became an international sensation, the tabloids salivating over the salacious details – was it a drug fuelled sex-game gone wrong?
Was Knox, as one paper called her, ‘Luciferina with the face of an angel’? Knox and Sollecito were found guilty, and then acquitted, found guilty again, and then in 2015 both were declared innocent by Italy’s highest court.
The documentary doesn’t reveal any new details about the case.
I was left with the impression that I had before – that a miscarriage of justice had occurred but ultimately my sympathy lay with Meredith and the Kercher family who have never achieved any kind of real resolution.
What I did discover was a newfound appreciation of how misogynistic the media coverage at the time was and the influence that had upon the case itself.
Knox’s family released a statement saying that it was clear to them that “the attacks on Amanda’s character in much of the media and by the prosecution had a significant impact on the judges and jurors and apparently overshadowed the lack of evidence in ... the case against her” but many of us dismissed that as misguided familial loyalty.
Looking back, I think that the Knox family were accurate in their analysis, whether you believe in Amanda’s innocence or not.
The prosecutor in the investigation, Giuliano Mignini, was very forthright about his Catholic beliefs, and the setting up of Meredith as the Madonna in comparison to Amanda’s Whore becomes increasingly clear.
He said Amanda was “uninhibited” “bringing boys home” but Meredith was ‘different’, and he believed Meredith “scolded” Amanda for her “lack of morals”, causing the two to argue.
This reductive juxtaposition of the two young women was seized by the press, and Nick Pisa, the journalist featured in the documentary, says at one point, “what more could you ask for in a story?.... sexual intrigue, girl on girl crime”, with a delighted grin on his face.
Lurid headlines called Knox a ‘femme fatale’ and a ‘man-eater’, interviewers asked her if she enjoyed ‘deviant sex’, details emerged about how Knox and Sollecito bought risqué underwear in sex shop together.
A narrative began to develop that Knox was, as she said herself, “a heinous whore, sex obsessed, bestial”.
Such were her powers of seduction, it was whispered, that she had manipulated Sollecito and Rudy Guede (the man whose DNA was subsequently found at the murder scene) into raping and killing Meredith, the two men so besotted with the ‘angel-faced’ Knox that they simply couldn’t resist her demands.
A naive MySpace nickname ‘Foxy Knoxy’ came back to haunt her and much was made of her physical appearance, with a reporter commenting that she looked ‘paler and skinnier’ when the case came to trial and that she “could maybe use some hair and makeup” because apparently it’s the duty of all women to appease the Male Gaze, regardless of whether they’ve been in jail or not.
During her initial imprisonment, Knox was falsely told that she was HIV positive and encouraged to make a list of the men that she had slept with.
These diaries were leaked to the press, Amanda described as ‘perverted’ and ‘infected’ (because why not shame the millions of people around the world living with HIV?).
he fact that a 20-year-old woman had slept with seven men was seen as shocking but even if Knox had sex with 107 men, was this really further proof that she had murdered her roommate?
I’ve talked before about the idea of the ‘perfect victim’, particularly in cases of sexual violence.
As a culture we seem to have a finite amount of sympathy for victims and this is very much dependent on whether they have obeyed greater societal rules about how we expect women to behave.
What if a female rape victim was drinking too much, or took drugs, or walked home alone, or went back to a stranger’s house and then said no at the last minute, or wore a short skirt and a revealing top, or has ever engaged in sex work, or is an ethnic minority, or has committed a crime in the past, or is homeless, or has previously enjoyed ‘unusual’ sexual practices such as anal sex or BDSM or threesomes (despite the fact these are a part of countless women’s sex lives) or has had many sexual partners?
Sadly, as a result many women - and let’s face it, that list includes most women in some shape or form - feel that they can’t report what has happened to them because they don’t think they will be believed.
What struck me about the documentary was that this level of perfection was also expected from the accused.
Yes, some of Knox’s behaviour was odd – the photos of her eerily smiling in court, reports that she had been turning cartwheels and kissing Sollecito outside the crime scene – but much of that could be attributed to shock and immaturity.
It was, as Nina Burleigh said in Newsweek, a story that resembled a fairy tale about things that happen to bad girls and to good girls.
Knox had committed the sin of openly enjoying her sexuality and dabbling with soft drugs, and coupled with what was seen as her lack of empathy after Meredith was found dead, she was cast as unnatural.
She did not adhere to the rules.
She was not a ‘proper’ woman and therefore deserved to be punished.
And punish her they did – and continue to do. Foxy Knoxy, they shout at her. “It’s you, I know you”, they say to her in the queue at grocery store.
And she turns around and says to them, “No. You don’t know me.”
And I don’t think we ever did.