By Jeff Maisey
Most Americans know the name Amanda Knox and her story of being a young woman studying abroad in Italy, and who’s British college roommate and friend was raped and murdered in their home.
Knox, in a highly publicized trial in an Italian court, made international newspaper, tabloid, and television headlines. Knox has long contended she was coerced into admitting involvement in the crime by Italian authorities and wrongfully convicted.
After almost four years in prison, she was exonerated, but clearing her name remains a work in progress.
In addition to her podcast, writings, speaking engagements, and other projects, Amanda Knox is preparing for another trial to set the record straight. All of these updates can be found on her website, KnoxRobinson.com.
In the meantime, Amanda Knox will be sharing her story as guest lecturer as part of The Norfolk Forum’s 2023-24 season on Tuesday, January 23 at Chrysler Hall.
In advance, I spoke with Amanda Knox by phone.
VEER: Your name conjures indelible images of a young woman on trial in Italy and a person who served time, but was ultimately proclaimed not guilty and freed from prison. Are your public speaking engagements part of a strategy to sort of “free or clear your name” and bring heightened awareness to the challenges you’ve faced?
Amanda Knox: Yeah, I think that’s a pretty good summary, not having heard my talk.
I bring the audience into what it was like to go through the experience at the time. Then, I also talk a lot about what I call the “Now, what?” question. When you go through an experience like this, in the aftermath, how do you process it? How do you incorporate it into who you are and what your role in the world is, especially when it’s so drastically different than you ever expected your life to be and very different than the way you belonged to the rest of humanity.
I would say it’s a dual focus on walking the audience through the experience as I experienced it and then going forward to ask some broader questions about belonging, forgiveness, and having the courage to have compassion for people who have harmed you.
VEER: Did you receive psychiatric treatment after enduring such a traumatic ordeal?
Amanda Knox: Surprisingly, I haven’t had a lot of what you think of as typical professional help with grappling with the whole mess of this. I tried.
I did not find a professional therapist who really understood what my experience was like, and rather it has been through meeting other wrongfully convicted people that my own healing journey really, really began.
One of the biggest things I can home with was feeling like I was very alone in the world and no one in the world would understand me and what I had been through. It was deeply isolating and distressing.
As much as my family and friends wanted to be there for me none of them had gone through the exact experience, and so I felt very alone in trying to process it.
Only when I me other wrongfully convicted people did I get a sense of relief and a sense of feeling that I belonged to humanity again.
VEER: In America, we have read about African-Americans who have been wrongfully convicted within our judicial system. Some had be coerced into confessing to crimes they never committed. Did you find people in the African-American community to be more empathetic and that could better relate to your experience?
Amanda Knox: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
In the world of wrongful convictions and those that have been exonerated or their convictions have been overturned, if you walk into a room it would be vastly disproportionally men of color. So I stick out.
It goes to show that while this is an issue that can affect anyone, even as someone who grew up in the suburbs, went to college and had everything going for them, what’s really at stake here is a lot of people are vulnerable in society, whether they are dealing with poverty or some kind of racial profiling. All of these issues play a role.
VEER: We often hear when there’s a crime such as murder or rape that there’s pressure on police to find “somebody” to bring to justice. Is such a scenario, in part, why you became a prime suspect in Italy?
Amanda Knox: Well, yeah, and I think the final ruling in my case certainly spoke to that.
The Supreme Court in Italy basically blamed the rush to judgement and a lot of the media pressure on having had a huge impact on the investigation from the very beginning and pressuring people who are law enforcement who ultimately are people who make mistakes.
To rely on misinformation or gut instinct that was going in a bad direction to solve the case because they felt the pressure…we have to really think carefully about how we tell these stories and under what circumstances, and at what speed.
Journalism needs to remember what its ultimate goal is; what its job is.
Is it there to speak to the truth, record the truth, and hold authorities to account or is to sell the most scandalous story as fast as possible? Unfortunately, in my case, much of the journalism reported was motivated by the need to get to the most scandalous story out there as fast as possible.
VEER: In sharing your story with the general public, what do they need to know about the psychology behind interrogation methods used by police forces?
Amanda Knox: You know, I grew up in the suburbs — like I said — and I was taught to trust the police. They were there to protect me.
I grew up understanding that anybody who was even accused of a crime was likely a bad person and they deserved to go to jail. That was just the unconscious vibe that I absorbed in my mind as I entered into this very terrifying situation.
What I didn’t understand was there were a lot of common sense things that most of us don’t imagine that are part of the rights and duties of policemen. One of those being that they can lie to you or that they can isolate you in ways that put you, as an innocent person, at risk when you would never think that you needed protection from the very people who are there to protect you.
So, I would say that that I could go at length about the psychology of false impressions, but I highly recommend for anybody who’s interested in it to look into the work of Professor Saul Kassin, who is a false impressions expert who writes very eloquently about this. He has a book called Duped: Why Innocent People Confess that came out recently.
In terms of my own experience and how it impacted my psychologically, I can say I’ve never been more gaslit and scared in my entire life than by the police.
What’s frightening about that is that it is legal for them to do that. We need to rethink what goes on behind closed doors in interrogation rooms and ask ourselves as a society, is this what we want for our criminal justice system?
VEER: Your experience was in Italy. In your research have you found these methods more common in European countries than here in America?
Amanda Knox: That’s a great question.
I can’t say that about other countries in Europe necessarily, but the same sort of methods that the police — in my case in Italy — are seen across the board here in the US. The same kinds of violations happen, even.
There are certain places they say you need to record interrogations, for instance.
The police will find loopholes by saying, “Oh, you were not a suspect so we did not have to give you an attorney or we did not have to record the interrogation.”
So there are lots of ways that across the board are methods that came from the Reid Technique. Around the world you’ll see that police are allowed to lie; police are allowed to manipulate; police are allowed to gaslight. It’s a detriment to the truth.
VEER: Do you see these methods used as well in organizations such as the FBI and Interpol?
Amanda Knox: You know, I don’t know the answer to that.
VEER: As you’ll recall, the Defund The Police movement intensified after the tragic death of George Floyd. Where do you stand on the topic?
Amanda Knox: A lot of people assume that I am anti-police, and I’m not, actually.
People forget that before I was a victim of police misconduct I was an indirect victim of crime.
My friend was raped and murdered in our house and she deserved justice.
I feel like its way more complicated that this black and white issue. What I would love for people to say is we need better training for the police and better incentives for the police. Let’s get the police in a position where they are no longer treating the rest of society like the enemy, and instead we are all working together to do what’s right.
VEER: Many Americans travel internationally and are not always educated in advance about local laws and law enforcement. Americans, like yourself, engage in study abroad opportunities. Some countries such as Russia, Iran, and China may actually target or have heightened suspicions of visiting Americans. What can Americans learn from your experience?
Amanda Knox: Oh gosh, yes, if we’re talking about Russia or Iran that’s a whole other thing that I think anyone going to those countries would think more carefully about than, say, Italy.
The thing that I really didn’t appreciate going abroad was how vulnerable I was going to be simply by nature of not being within my group, my network of family and friends. Not having somebody to fall back on when the chips were down.
While it’s very exciting and very fulfilling to find yourself in a new place amongst new people, and to be absorbing culture and making new friendships — that’s a powerful experience I wish upon everyone. The thing we need to keep in mind, though, is we are more vulnerable and we need to take care and listen to that fear instinct that tells us that maybe we can’t be as nonchalant or maybe we should take a step back and move more slowly than we’d like.
VEER: You have a new trial coming up in Florence, Italy. How are you preparing for this next challenge in an Italian court?
Amanda Knox: I have the opportunity to appeal my wrongful conviction for slander. That appeal was granted by the Supreme Court in Italy, and so my conviction has been overturned…likely this year I will have the opportunity to stand trial again and face my accusers and let them know what really happened in the interrogation room and hopefully make a case for my innocence.
VEER: Do you have anxiety about this next phase?
Amanda Knox: I mean — yeah.
I don’t cherish the idea of sitting in a courtroom again. It’s not a positive experience for me. At the same time I am looking forward to it because this is my chance. I didn’t think that I was going to have another chance to make the case for my innocence.
I’m going to have the courage to go there and do what needs to be done.
VEER: There are a lot of mentally unstable people in the public. The person convicted of murdering your ex-roommate was released from prison on “good behavior” and has reportedly been accused of physically abusing a recent girlfriend. Are these things in the back of your mind when it comes to your safety?
Amanda Knox: Of course, it is.
I’ve received death threats ever since I came home. To this day people blame me for what happened to Meredith.
So, I do not share my address and I live in a location that’s a little bit out of the way.
I don’t go out all that much. I don’t meet lots of people. I keep my world somewhat small on purpose. I’ve been through something where I was struck by lightning, and try telling someone they won’t be struck by lightning again…which isn’t to say I live in fear.
I don’t live every day afraid somebody’s going to show up at my door and murder me, or something like that.
I do know all of us are incredibly vulnerable all the time and I try to be grateful and live in the moment for everything I have today.
VEER: Would you say you’re still a prisoner of your experience and will you always be?
Amanda Knox: I mean, no one can give me back the life of being an anonymous creative writing student in college. No one can give me back my identity that’s not wrapped up with someone else’s horrendous crime and my friend’s murder.
So, in that way, I’ll never be free of this case.
What I’m attempting to do now is to accept that fact and do the best I can in this world with having accepted that fact.
I’m trying to feel free in the midst of not being free.
WANT TO GO?
Presented by The Norfolk Forum
January 23, 7:30 PM