On November 6th, 2007, American student Amanda Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were accused of sexually assaulting and murdering Amanda’s student roommate, Meredith Kercher, in Italy. Since then, there has been a media firestorm surrounding Knox as she was first sentenced to jail for 25 years, then successfully appealed the ruling in October 2011.
Many questions arose as she navigated the Italian court system, not all of them directly linked to the case. Is a woman capable of sexually attacking another woman? Did Knox’s physical appearance win her supporters (or detractors)? Do the prosecution’s allegations of promiscuous behavior relate to the likelihood that Knox could have killed her roommate? And why was the other accused party, Raffaele Sollecito, not getting nearly as much media attention?
Many media sectors brought notice to Amanda Knox’s attractiveness: MSNBC.com called her “angel-faced”; a New York Times editor referred to her as “beautiful”. Knox, for her part, believed she “wasn’t even that good-looking” and worried, “If I were ugly would they [her supporters] be writing me wishing me encouragement? I don’t think so” (excerpts from the diary she kept while in jail). Her backers accused the Italian courts of casting suspicion on her because she was attractive and American; her detractors say she was freed because she was attractive and American.
Knox’s prosecutors in the Italian court brought much attention to her supposed promiscuity and drug use, arguing it evinced her lack of morals and therefore made her perfectly capable of murdering Kercher. Many people felt it was a far-fetched conclusion, questioning whether it’s even possible for one woman to sexually assault another (it is); others hinted that cultural differences may have had an impact on the Italians’ opinion of Knox. In her final statement in appeals, Knox said “I’m not a promiscuous vamp”.
Philosophical, psychological, and feminist theorists believe many people have two subconscious views of a woman (usually mothers or sex partners, but sometimes attractive women in general): an angelic mother figure, the pure Madonna; or as a sexual and debauched Whore. This dichotomy supposedly stems from a fixation related to having either a too close or too distant relationship with one’s mother. Regardless, the binary portrayals of Amanda Knox in the media and by its Americans and Italian viewers seem to suggest a madonna/whore complex at play. This also explains why Sollecito wasn’t as talked about: males can’t be madonnas or whores.
What does this matter? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. One cannot judge innocence or guilt simply by appearance or behavior. People who try to do so are fated to draw incomplete, if not erroneous, conclusions, especially when fueled by simplistic media conjecture. This is precisely why judges warn jurors to make a verdict based only on the evidence at hand and not to read newspapers or watch TV. Since the DNA evidence was said to be questionable, releasing Knox and Sollecito was probably—probably—the right choice. Readers must draw their own conclusions about Knox’s guilt or innocence, but appearance must not be a factor if one wishes to be fair and just.