Amanda Knox has penned a thought-provoking essay entitled, ‘Why do innocent women confess to crimes they didn’t commit?’
In it, the 29-year-old Seattle native explores a number of different case studies to look at the broader problem of sexism in criminal investigations, and attempts to understand the role that gender plays in false convictions.
Knox – along with her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito – was found guilty and later acquitted for the murder of her housemate, 21-year-old British student Meredith Kercher, in Italy in 2007. The long-running case gripped the world and Knox became a particular source of fascination for the tabloid media, who dubbed her with the misogynist nickname “Foxy Knoxy”. She insists the police bullied her into a false confession.
Writing in Broadly, Knox explains: “We are all of us social animals, conditioned to please and comply with authority figures—such as police officers. But compliance and suggestibility aren't hardwired traits: We're taught them.
Knox continues: “Women are raised under a different social incentive structure than men, where attitudes of compliance and deference to authority are more encouraged.
“This finds its most damning realization in the interrogation room, a situation designed to amplify the absolute control and authority of investigators—an experience I know only too well.”
Knox reveals that 92% of those affected by false memory syndrome (that is, to believe something to be true that didn’t actually happen to them) are women.
“They’re usually implanted with false memories as a result of suggestive psychotherapy,” she adds.
Until we look at the whole picture and understand the complex psychology of the interrogation room, many more women will confess to crimes they didn't commit
She argues that a “motivation to cooperate” with law enforcement officials often “renders people susceptible to coercion”. And, when investigators are unable to find criminal intent, they can “erroneously assume” it; this can lead to them using all of their authority to manipulate and bully people into supporting their theory.
“Throughout history, our ideas about justice have repeatedly failed women in this same, special way,” explains Knox. “We imagine criminal intent where it doesn't exist. The Salem Witch trials of the late 1600s tended to target middle-aged women who rebelled against strict social and spiritual standards, finding them responsible for anything from miscarriages to spoiled milk.
“More recently, Hillary Clinton was judged guilty by association of her husband's sexual indiscretions, and even though investigations into Benghazi and her private email server found no wrongdoing worth criminal prosecution, mantras of ‘Lock her up!’ prevailed.”
Knox concludes by insisting that women are more likely to be wrongly convicted based on a false confession than men – but, as there is actually very little statistical evidence to back this up, she insists that much more research needs to be done.
“For now, there is no standard understanding of the role that gender plays in condemning the innocent to the punishments of the guilty,” she says.
“Until we look at the whole picture and understand the complex psychology of the interrogation room, many more women will confess to crimes they didn't commit.”
Knox was arrested in the Italian town of Perugia after Kercher was found dead in the home they shared while studying there. Investigators believed she had been subjected to a violent sexual attack.
Speaking in Netflix’s new documentary Amanda Knox, Knox explained that Italian police subjected her to an intense investigation, which saw her go for hours without food or sleep.
“At a certain point, a police officer slapped me behind the head and was like 'Remember!' and slapped me again,” Knox told the camera.
The documentary also revealed that police told Knox that she had HIV (she didn’t) in order to get a list of every man she'd ever had sex with.
Knox was eventually convicted and then acquitted of Kercher's murder over a notorious and often confused eight-year legal process that made headlines around the world.
Throughout this period, the media tore apart her sex life and character, dubbing her ‘Foxy Knoxy’ whilst insisting she had the ‘Face of an Angel’.
And it was Knox’s sexual history that police used to make their case work; Giuliano Mignini, the lead investigator in the 2007 murder case, told the camera why he was convinced that Knox was the killer.
“Let’s imagine what Meredith found when she came home,” he said. “She sees Amanda with Raffaele Sollecito and Rudy Guede [about to have sex]… she couldn’t take it anymore.
“She must have scolded Amanda for her lack of morals. Amanda must have felt irritated, humiliated.”
Mignini never explains how he knew what either woman “must have felt”.
Knox and Sollecito served four years in Italian prison before their convictions were overturned. However, in 2014, a Florence court reinstated their guilty verdicts, ordering them to serve 28 and 25 years behind bars, respectively.
Due to “stunning flaws” in the case for the prosecution, the pair were acquitted for a second time on 28 March 2015 in the final ruling in the case.
Italy’s highest appeals court have ruled that there will be no more appeals or retrials.
Rudy Guede, the Ivory Coast drifter whose fingerprints were found at the scene of the crime, was convicted of Kercher’s murder and is currently serving a 16-year sentence.
He was previously thought to have acted with an accomplice.
Images: Rex pictures