Wednesday 8 May 2013 - by Kyl Chhatwal
On the night of November 1, 2007, a young British exchange student named Meredith Kercher was sexually assaulted and murdered in her apartment in Perugia, Italy. Over the next few days, as the Italian police interviewed witnesses, they began to focus their attention strongly on one of Kercher’s flatmates, a young American exchange student named Amanda Knox, and her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito.
The pair were interviewed over several days, separately and for long periods of time, ostensibly as witnesses, and without lawyers. What the police failed to tell the couple, however, was that at
some point during the interviews they’d stopped being witnesses and become suspects.
Although the testimonies they gave could not be formally used to prosecute them, the cases against them were nonetheless influenced by these early conversations with police. Knox and Sollecito were arrested on November 6, five days after Kercher’s death. In 2009 the pair were convicted of murder; and in 2011 the conviction was overturned and Knox was released from Italian prison and sent back to the United States. On March 26 of this year the case was once again reopened by the Italian Supreme Court.
If this story sounds familiar it’s because the Knox case has been all over the media these past six years, not only in Italy but in the US and Britain, Knox’s and Kercher’s respective home countries. The story hit a nerve with people: how a young, pretty, “All-American girl” could possibly commit such a violent crime in a foreign land seemed to be the question on everyone’s mind.
In the absence of much physical evidence against Knox, or a clear motive, the prosecution focussed on Knox’s perceived character: notably, that she happened to be an attractive young woman with a strong sexual appetite. Sex-inspired murder scenarios were conjured out of thin air—everything from “Satanic ritualistic orgies” to “sex games gone wrong.” Knox was called, not only in print but in court, “a diabolic she-devil,” “a spell-casting witch,” “the Sphinx of Perugia.” The sexual stereotyping even swung to the
opposite extreme. When Kercher’s body was found it had a duvet covering it, which the prosecution argued was proof that Knox had been present at Kercher’s murder, because (according to them) only a woman would have the “compassion” to cover up her victim after killing her.
Among other things, this case demonstrates the extent to which troubling stereotypes of female sexuality and womanhood persist not only in society but in our legal institutions. To criminalize a woman, to make her dangerous, our first instinct is to sexualize her. The media dubbed Knox “Foxy Knoxy;” prison officials tricked her into disclosing her sexual history, which they then leaked to the press; Knox’s guilt seemed to depend not on physical evidence but on her portrayal as sexually insatiate. The unspoken implication
here is the antiquated, Victorian notion that a woman exhibiting strong sexual desire is at the whim of her passions, and therefore capable of anything.
Recently, Amanda Knox was interviewed by Diane Sawyer—below is part of that interview—and in it the sexist language used against Knox (“she-devil with an angel’s face,” “Sphinx of Perugia”) is briefly discussed.
Still, Sawyer and the ABC network, which produced the video and interview, are not innocent in promoting the spurious link between female sexuality and criminality either.
At 2:24 in the video a short clip is shown of Ms. Knox before leaving the US on her Italian exchange—before both the murder or the trial—expressing a lusty opinion of the masculine beauty of Michelangelo’s “David.”
In highlighting this innocent, unguarded moment from Knox’s past, Sawyer and ABC are suggesting that what you see in Amanda Knox is a young woman with more sexual appetite than young women should decently admit to. Judge her as you will.