In 'Know My Name,' Chanel Miller Takes Back The Humanity She Was Denied
Miller, known for years only as Emily Doe in the Stanford sexual assault case, has written a memoir that lays bare the complicated truths about survivorhood.
By Emma Gray, HuffPost US, Sept 30, 2019
Chanel Miller's new memoir, "Know My Name," is a revelation.
“I introduce myself here, because in the story I’m about to tell, I begin with no name or identity.”
So writes Chanel Miller on Page 2 of her memoir, “Know My Name.” Chanel Miller — it feels important to write her full name more than once because the public spent years talking about her without it — went to a party at Stanford University in 2015 and ended up in a hospital, unsure how she had gotten there. She would soon learn, by way of cryptic statements by law enforcement and, eventually, local news coverage, that she had been sexually assaulted behind a dumpster while unconscious by a 20-year-old Stanford student named Brock Turner.
You probably know the vague outlines of the story from there: Turner was found guilty of multiple felonies, including assault with intent to rape an intoxicated woman. He was sentenced by Judge Aaron Persky to six months in county jail, of which he would serve three. His victim, known then only as Emily Doe, wrote a searing victim impact statement, which was published on BuzzFeed and read on live TV, on the floor of Congress and by millions online. Persky was recalled. Turner was released from jail. Laws were changed.
What you are less likely to have is a clear picture of Miller: her background in art, the way that writing runs in her family, her loving sister, the way she read all of the comments on the news coverage of her assault, her rage, her desire, her potential. With “Know My Name,” Miller gets to reclaim her humanity.
There is an instinct to lionize survivors of sexual assault who are brave enough to share their stories, to put their experiences up on a pedestal for the edification of the larger culture. That instinct makes sense. In a culture that makes it nearly impossible for survivors to get justice or even be believed, we want to find meaning in tragedy made public. But to turn a survivor into a symbol, a lesson, a one-dimensional inspirational quote, is to flatten them and deprive them of their humanity. It is a particular cruelty to be defined by the worst thing that ever happened to you, and to exist in the public sphere only in relation to it. This is one of many injustices that Miller’s memoir seeks to right.
Chanel Miller just wants what was always afforded to Brock Turner: to be viewed as a human being.
In our collective memories, we like to freeze in time women who become publicly identified victims, as though they were born only as their alleged assault was enacted and ceased to exist as soon as their stories stopped being front-page news. Christine Blasey Ford did not stop existing after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court, and her story mattered before he entered her life. Her story did not stop being written, her wounds were not healed, her complexities were not diminished. The same goes for Andrea Constand and Aly Raisman and Emma Sulkowicz and Kyle Stephens and every person who has experienced a sexual trauma, regardless of whether it is made public.
“I did not come into existence when [Turner] harmed me,” Miller writes. “She found her voice! I had a voice. He stripped it, left me groping around blind for a bit, but I always had it ... I do not owe him my success, my becoming, he did not create me. The only credit Brock can take is for assaulting me, and he could never even admit to that.”
Miller has an almost inconceivable well of perspective on her experience. She writes about the way that her relative anonymity allowed her statement to feel almost universal. Instead, she was allowed to become “the lady with the blue hair, the one with the nose ring. I was sixty-two, I was Latina, I was a man with a beard. ...