Murder suspect or sex symbol?

The media has eagerly turned Amanda Knox, accused of killing her female roommate during sex, into a femme fatale.

By Tracy Clark-Flory
Published October 30, 2008 7:00PM (EDT)

Until now, I've avoided writing about Amanda Knox, the beautifully angelic 21-year-old American accused  of murdering her flatmate a year ago in a satanic sex ritual while studying abroad in Italy. In case you haven't followed the bizarre story -- which was exhaustively chronicled by Radar -- Meredith Kercher was discovered dead in the apartment she shared with Knox in the quiet town of Perugia. She was half-naked, lying on her bed in a pool of her own blood with several slits to her throat, and there was evidence of sex, consensual or forced, shortly before she was killed.

Soon after, local officials accused Knox -- along with her Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito, and her boss, a local bar owner -- of killing Kercher after she refused to join in a violent foursome. Later, police arrested a fourth suspect, 21-year-old drifter Rudy Hermann Guede. Based on strong DNA evidence, Guede was found guilty this week of sexually assaulting and killing Kercher. Knox claims to have been at Sollecito's house at the time of the murder (although, during a 14-hour interrogation in Italian, without a translator present, and during which she says she was repeatedly hit over the head, she suggested that she might have been at her apartment at the time). Still, she and Sollecito were ordered on Tuesday to stand trial for the murder.

Certainly my avoidance of the story hasn't been for lack of interest in the confounding case, but with the Italian and British tabloids already publicly convicting her, and sympathy for Knox growing stateside, why add to the public speculation over Knox's guilt or innocence? Crimes should be tried in the courtroom, not in the media. There is, however, one verdict I can easily come to on my own: The media has made Knox into a sex symbol. A man-eating murderous sex symbol, but a sex symbol, nonetheless.

Nearly every article about the case is accompanied by a photo of the fresh-faced Knox, who it's easier to imagine starring in a Noxzema commercial than slitting her friend's throat during group sex; in fact, based purely on appearance, the only freaky thing about Knox is her bizarrely perfect bone structure. A photo adored by the tabloids shows Knox wearing dramatic eye makeup and an all-black outfit; it was taken by her sister for a photography class and, while "the overall effect is more elegant than sleazy, the photo appeared alongside many articles to illustrate her supposed promiscuity," Radar reports.

The local media has created her in the image of the sin-seeking American floozy. And in hopes of selling her to an international audience, U.K. tabloids like the infamous Daily Mail have instead chosen the all-inclusive porno prototype of the good girl gone bad, the embodiment of sexually charged conflict and contradiction. She appears virginal but -- no! -- she's a dirty little whore. Avoiding any subtlety in delivering the succubal story line, tabloids have dubbed her "the Dark Lady of Seattle," "una cacciatrice d'uomini, insaziabile a letto" (a huntress of men, insatiable in bed), a "maneater with mommy issues," the "angel-face killer with ice cold eyes" and "Foxy Knoxy" (a nickname she originally gave herself on her MySpace profile).

There is very little actual proof of Knox's pathological slutiness, but local officials have done their part to support the impression that there is. Prison authorities told Knox that she had tested positive for HIV and that she should make a list of every man she had ever slept with. After she scribbled the list in her diary, it was confiscated and leaked to the press, presumably by officials. It was dubbed a "sex diary" and headlines announced that she had slept with seven guys during her two months in Italy. What a hussy.

Not that it matters, but they were actually the names of the seven partners she'd had over her lifetime. After the tabloids' slut shaming, she was notified that -- oops -- the test had resulted in a false positive; she didn't have HIV, after all. As Radar reported, "Sources close to the case have said that they believe this was one of [chief prosecutor Giuliano Mignini's] early tactics to try to find a male sexual partner of Knox's who could provide a link to Kercher's murder."

More recently, officials leaked audio of conversations Knox had with her parents, in which she tells of her cellmate, a convicted murderer, offering to have sex with her. The headlines read: "Foxy Knoxy claims female cell mate begs her for sex 'because I'm so pretty.'" Previously, the tabloids had written about Knox's claim that a prison guard had "begged her for sex" as well. One can assume that she didn't tell her parents about the come-on because she found it hot, hot, hot to be propositioned by a convicted killer and authoritative prison guard. But the media has written about it as though it were a scene from the next installment of "Jail Babes."

If you ask me, the Italian investigators appear as crooked as a dog's hind leg. That said, I haven't the slightest clue whether Knox, or Sollecito, is actually guilty of murder. The media, however, is certainly guilty of sexualizing her, based not on hard evidence but hard you-know-whats. Even if we take the prosecution's version of events as truth, it takes more than one to ... have a satanic orgy, yet very little ink has been spilled on the topic of Sollecito's alleged sadistic sexual predilections.

The media simply has far too much fun publicly defiling young women who are virginal in appearance but not in fact; and, perhaps, some take a sexual thrill in vandalizing the character of beautiful and seemingly unattainable young women whom they desire (or desire to be). But, mostly, I can't help thinking that the demonizing of Knox -- not as a coldblooded murderer but as a sexual huntress -- is an expression of deep-seated fears about female sexual aggressiveness and power.

Tracy Clark-Flory

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