The year was 2007, in a beautiful Medieval city in Central Italy. A man from a troubled home life with a history of violent home break-ins, sexually assaulted and murdered a young British student in her bedroom. He left bloody prints at the scene and fled the country soon afterwards. It could have been an open and shut case. Instead, sprinkle a handful of crime scene DNA contamination, throw in a few wild speculations from the detective in charge, and a delicious media frenzy was served up, piping hot.
So, how many of you remember the name of the murderer, Rudy Guede? How about Raffaele Sollecito? Or the victim, Meredith Kercher?
How about Amanda Knox?
Also known, by the press, as “Foxy Knoxy”, Knox spent almost four years in an Italian prison for a crime she was ultimately cleared of any involvement in the crime.
In the days that followed the murder, newspapers were filled with seductive photos from Knox’s social media accounts, details of her sexual history; the fact she owned a vibrator. Her behaviour in the days that followed was closely scrutinised – kissing her boyfriend, cartwheels, buying underwear – everything pointed to a callous female predator and sexual deviant.
In her criticism of the Matt Damon film, Stillwater, Amanda Knox notes that she is the person everyone remembers. Not the murderer. Not the victim, Meredith Kercher, the one person who, above all, deserves be remembered. She points to the New York Post headline announcing Guede’s released from prison last year: ‘Man who killed Amanda Knox’s roommate freed on community service’ (it was not frontpage).
Amanda Knox on Twitter: ‘The result of this is that 15 years later, my name is the name associated with this tragic series of events, of which I had zero impact on. Meredith’s name is often left out, as is Rudy Guede’s. When he was released from prison recently, this was the NY Post headline’.
So, would things be the same if she were a man? Perhaps this question is best answered by a headline from, The Daily Mail: ‘Amanda Knox: Behind the Hollywood smile, a liar, a narcissist and a killer’.
Let’s look to the case of Maxine Carr. She is one of five convicted criminals in this country granted lifelong anonymity for her own protection. Unlike the other four (which includes Mary Bell and the Bulger killers) Maxine Carr was never convicted of a violent crime. Instead, she provided her partner – Soham killer Ian Huntley – with a false alibi after the murder was discovered. There was no evidence she had any involvement in the crime itself. She claimed she believed he was innocent. She was also, by all accounts, in a violent, coercive relationship with him.
None of this stopped a literal lynch mob forming outside the court where she stood trial – spurred on by a rabid tabloid press. Alongside outright false allegations that she was involved in the crime, there was a constant flow of innuendo, all of it pointing to one idea – Carr was as guilty as Huntley, the actual killer. In the years since she was released, women have been hounded and driven from their homes by people convinced they were secretly Maxine Carr. The real Maxine Carr was, herself, forced to go into hiding just last year when her new identity was published online – 18 years later.
Throughout press coverage of Carr – much like Knox – there were comments on her apparent coldness – ignoring the fact that people sometimes respond to trauma in strange ways. Like Knox, there were comments about her appearance. In Knox’s case, her beauty was a sign of her manipulativeness. In Carr’s case – derogatory comments about her looks were an added string to the bow of her public shaming. After she was released under a new identity, the false tabloid stories continued. She was living the life of luxury. A helicopter, costing £15,000 in taxpayers’ money, had rescued her from an angry mob. She was negotiating a £1M book deal. Other tabloid articles compared her to serial killer Myra Hindley – despite the fact she hadn’t actually killed anyone.
The Daily Express, in 2005, said she had ‘committed an abominable crime' and had 'got off so lightly' she did not deserve any protection. In an article, detailing Carr’s wedding in 2014, down to the cost of her dress, and the wine, The Sun resentfully noted they were not allowed to reveal her new identity. The writer bemoaned how much public money this protection was costing – failing to mention the fact that, she might not need it were it not for the media's fixation with her.
An interesting point to make is that women are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime rather than its perpetrators. As a result, any hint of a female aggressor whips the British press into a frenzy. Sadly, the gloomy and predictable murder of a woman by her violent male partner, fails to generate this level of excitement in most newspapers. But in these rare cases, where a woman is suspected of being involved in a violent crime, the press go into overdrive. And whether that woman is guilty or not of that crime, she will be treated no better than the actual killer. Guilt by association.