Today, HarperCollins will release the memoir of world-famous murder suspect Amanda Knox, aka "Foxy Knoxy." Knox is the American college student who, while studying abroad in the Italian city of Perugia in November 2007, was accused of killing her roommate, Meredith Kercher, in what authorities dubbed a kinky sex game gone wrong. The book will benefit from what we in the business call a "news peg": In late March, an Italian court overturned Knox's acquittal, and mandated the retrial of Knox and her co-defendant, Raffaele Sollecito. Knox reportedly received a $4 million advance for the book, money that she apparently needs—her family is said to have spent a fortune defending her during the four years she spent in jail.
As luck would have it, I happen to be in Perugia right now. I have come here each spring for the past four years, to attend the city's annual journalism festival, and the Knox case has always been the talk of the town. This year, however, Knox was barely mentioned at all. There were no panel discussions about the coverage, no impassioned mealtime arguments, no chatter overheard in the pubs. When I've mentioned the case to a few locals, they have, as usual, expressed their belief in Knox's guilt. But the discussion inevitably ended there, unlike in previous years, where the mere mention of Knox's name might prompt a 15-minute disquisition on what a vixen she was. Perugians seem to be over the Knox case. And I can't blame them.
The title of Knox's memoir is Waiting to Be Heard, which is sort of funny, because there are very few criminal defendants the world has heard from more than Amanda Knox. As an attractive white American girl facing peril in a foreign land, Knox has had no trouble convincing private citizens and the media to pay attention to her story. To be sure, much of that publicity has been negative. In Knox’s new book, she apparently talks about all the casual sex she enjoyed while studying abroad. (“Whatever light ‘Waiting to Be Heard’ does or does not shed on the awful death of Meredith Kercher, it offers a dispiriting account of prevailing mores,” Rebecca Mead writes in this week’s New Yorker.) Such accounts will likely give new ammunition to those enemies and critics who are determined to see her as a callow, unrepentant minx.
But though Knox herself was incarcerated for much of the past five-and-a-half years, her side of the story has been well told, thanks to a savvy media campaign waged by her friends and family. If you've been paying attention to the case, you know the main points of their argument: that Knox was a naive, harmless hippie who wouldn't hurt a soul; that her "confession" was coerced; that she had been sexually harassed in prison; that the ill-timed kisses and cartwheels that made her appear so heartless were just nervous tics and misinterpreted gestures. Though I do not yet have a copy of Waiting to Be Heard, this is apparently the crux of the story she tells there, and this is likely what she will tell Diane Sawyer tonight in an exclusive interview on ABC.
So why, then, are we still listening? Amanda Knox's story is not unique. Scores of defendants are convicted on scant evidence every year, in Italy and in the United States, often thanks to the work of aggressive prosecutors more interested in getting a conviction than carrying out justice. Sexual harassment is shockingly common in prisons and jails; a 2007 article in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review noted that "sexual abuse by guards in women’s prisons is so notorious and widespread that it has been described as 'an institutionalized component of punishment behind prison walls.' " The things that allegedly happened to Amanda Knox happen all the time.
The difference, of course, is that in the United States, they generally happen to people who are poor and black. There are countless victims of injustice out there whose stories are truly waiting to be heard. But they are not pretty white college girls, and they will never get international headlines, or a multimillion-dollar book deal, or a sit-down with Diane Sawyer.
Nobody here in Italy seems to know that Knox has a book coming out today (although it's very possible that I'm just not making myself clear; my Italian is very, very bad). For the time being, at least, Perugia seems to have heard enough about Amanda Knox. Perhaps one day we'll say the same thing in the USA.