Tuesday, August 3, 2021
by Co-Editor Margaret Drew
Stillwater, Matt Damon's latest movie, claims to be "loosely" based on Amanda Knox's "story". One reviewer noted:"The movie is loosely – very loosely – based – on the real-life, story of Amanda Knox, an American woman who since has been acquitted after she spent several years in an Italian prison when she was convicted of murdering her roommate." What's this about "since has been acquitted"? That phrase implies that since the movie was made there is an updated result. Ms. Knox was acquitted finally in 2015.
Ms. Knox was not the only one found guilty and then acquitted in the murder of Meredith Kercher. Raffale Sollecito, another roommate, was convicted and acquitted, as well. Yet who remembers the names of the co-defendant and the deceased? Amanda Knox was immediately tabloidized after the murder. She was a suspect, of course, by, a foreigner in Italy, and was subjected to all of the mental health accusations usually thrown at women without basis; she was sexualized and her account discounted. Women everywhere, particularly women defendants can identify with this treatment. Meanwhile not generally analyzed was the action of the police who failed to provide proper legal precautions and protections, and ignored the evidence that indicated that the sole perpetrator was Rudolf Guede, unknown to Knox, Mercher, or Sollecito.
The right to truth is much explored as a human right when the state causes harm. Unquestionably the Italian government and systems deeply harmed Ms. Knox and her family. Should those complicit in perpetuating the harm be held responsible, as well? This question can be explored in the context of those spreading Trump lies, particularly that he won the 2020 election. That harm began when Trump was president and part of the state.
We might consider expanding liability to those who perpetrate state harm through mistruths and ambiguities. Harm to reputation is difficult to undo, in part because the media is often unsupportive of truth when that truth is not scandalous or so noteworthy that it will draw viewers or readers. We are unwilling as a society to provide support to those whose reputations have unjustly suffered harm. Indeed, like the Stillwater writers, directors, and producers, should those perpetuating mistruths be responsible for human rights harms caused to others when the state originated the harm? The public has a right to the truth. The harm caused by Stop The Steal advocates, that compelled some individuals to act on lies initiated by the state, causes ongoing harm. Third-party non-state actors need to be held accountable when they are advancing or perpetuating harms caused by the state.
The reputational and privacy harm suffered by Ms. Knox is near-constant. US law deems her a public figure even though she did not seek the publicity that made her one. Consequently, she encounters a high standard in any defamation action. While Ms. Knox, a journalist, has not directly raised the human rights perspective on mitigating harm, she describes the ongoing harm she suffers in the Atlantic Magazine. Her narrative challenges us to consider whether this isn't the perfect time for us to consider expanding the conceptual liability for human rights abuses to those who knowingly extend harm originally caused by the state.