When someone you know is accused of a serious crime, you immediately reassess everything you think you know about them. If you scarcely know them, you will probably go along with whatever the police and prosecution say. If you know them well, you may be surprised. You may even know them so well that you refuse to believe that the accusations can be true.
If you know them, well, – so, so; not too well, but more than a little, you are still likely to be swayed against them. The British girls knew Meredith quite well; Amanda, not so much. Some had never met her. In the circumstances, their behaviour is understandable.
The prosecution wanted to make sure that they would jump the right way, so they were ‘encouraged’ to reassess their impression of Amanda. They were coached before the trial and the media was told what they were going to say, before they took the stand.
A deafening silence from feminists
Feminists should have been angry when the fact that Amanda owned a joke vibrator was used against her, but they were not. They should have been annoyed when the court was told that Amanda had visitors who were men (no more than Meredith did), but they were not. Italy may still be in the 1850s when it comes to women’s liberation, but this trial was on an international stage. We are supposed to be past being surprised that twenty year old girls have sex lives. (They both did.) What does any of this have to do with murder?
Slut shaming was an important part of the framing of Amanda Knox – and by extension, Raffaele Sollecito. The British girls were unwittingly, part of the process.
John Follain of the Sunday Times wrote the leading pro-guilt book on the case, which was endorsed by his publisher as ‘the definitive account’. Of course it could never be that because he had minimal contact with Amanda Knox’s family after his 2008 interview with her parents and sister Deanna, when they revealed that Amanda was assaulted during her interrogation. Edda Mellas and Curt Knox were charged with criminal slander for this, but Follain and his newspaper mysteriously escaped the attention of the authorities, although they published the accusation.
He made up for the disadvantage of having limited access to the defendants by peppering his book with prejudicial comments from or about the British girls, who had no connection to the case apart from their presence at the police station immediately after the murder. It could be argued that they provide a convenient proxy for Follain to channel the view that Knox and Sollecito were guilty. Sophie Purton was his preferred voice. She was a witness at the 2009 trial and Follain also quotes extensively from an interview with her:
During the first trial
Sophie’s doubts didn’t stop her hating Amanda. Even if Amanda were innocent, Sophie would hate her simply because of the callous way she had behaved at the police station and at the trial. Sophie knew she would never forgive her.
Sophie had long been sickened by the campaign waged by Amanda’s family; she felt it was all about Amanda as the victim. To her, there seemed to be no thought for Meredith, the real victim, and no respect for Meredith’s family.
After the first guilty verdict in 2009
Sophie had wanted Amanda jailed for life, but she would still have a life ahead of her. But Sophie hoped that after the verdict, Amanda and Raffaele would start to realise that they weren’t going to get away with what they’d done.
At the time of the 2011 acquittal
Sophie believed Amanda and Raffaele were guilty and was confident that they would be convicted; she couldn’t even imagine an acquittal.
“A good actress”, Sophie thought, as she watched Amanda live on TV from her home with Amy and Robyn. Amanda had chosen all the right things to say and had rehearsed her lines well.
Sophie was struck by Amanda echoing the words she had said in front of Meredith’s friends at the police station almost four years earlier: ‘It could have been me in her place.’
Follain’s portrayal of the British girls and Sophie Purton in particular, demonstrates the way in which a positive or neutral opinion can quickly change when apparent evidence of complicity in a crime is produced. Of course the British girls barely knew Amanda so had a very superficial view of her character to start with, which was immediately coloured by her troubled reaction to the most stressful event that she had ever faced.
This contrasts with the backing and understanding Amanda secured from her Seattle friends, who knew her well and were immediately certain that she would not have been capable of participating in a violent crime. This culminated in the decision of Madison Paxton to move to Perugia so that she could visit Amanda and support her while she was in prison.
There is a fuller study of the British Girls here: