Amanda Knox Writes Chilling Essay On Why Women Make False Confessions

Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP/REX/Shutterstock.
When Amanda Knox was acquitted of the murder of her roommate, much attention was paid to the way Italian police obtained a confession from her, which she later retracted. Now, Knox has written an essay for Broadly looking at the larger problem of women who make false confessions.

"Women are raised under a different social incentive structure than men, where attitudes of compliance and deference to authority are more encouraged," writes Knox, who is now a freelance writer. "This finds its most damning realization in the interrogation room, a situation designed to amplify the absolute control and authority of investigators — an experience I know only too well."

The essay does not detail the allegation that her own Italian interrogators kept her overnight until she said what they wanted. Instead, she discusses cases of women accused of killing children, such as Melissa Calusinski, who was convicted in 2009 of killing a toddler at the daycare where she worked. She had a low IQ and a psychologist found she was "highly suggestible." Both of those are factors in increasing a person's vulnerability to coercive techniques. Police repeated a story to Calusinksi until she finally agreed to it. That was enough to convict her, despite a lack of physical evidence to back it up.

Women are more likely to be convicted of a crime they did not commit based on a false confession, Knox argues, though very little statistical analysis has been done on the subject, because fewer women are accused of violent crimes than men. However, there are some numbers to back this up: The National Registry of Exonerations says that false confessions are involved in 11% of exonerated women's cases, versus 9% of all cases. Knox also cites studies about women's susceptibility to false memory syndrome.

Tying together the Salem witch trials and Hillary Clinton, Knox urges more research and understanding into women's treatment by the criminal justice system.
"For now, there is no standard understanding of the role that gender plays in condemning the innocent to the punishments of the guilty," she says. "Until we look at the whole picture and understand the complex psychology of the interrogation room, many more women will confess to crimes that they did not commit."
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