Chanel Miller's ‘Know My Name: A Memoir,’ harrowing but necessary read
Trigger warning: This article discusses sexual assault.
You may know her as "Emily Doe" or the "victim of the Brock Turner case," but her name is Chanel Miller. Last year, Miller came forward in her memoir “Know My Name: A Memoir” about her story in all its highs, lows and in-betweens.
In 2015, Miller was sexually assaulted while unconscious by Turner behind a dumpster at a Stanford University party, and then thrown into the merciless court system, trying to reclaim her voice and the voices of so many others. In the now infamous case, Turner was convicted of three felonies but sentenced to just six months in county jail, of which he only served three.
In her memoir, Miller recalls the turmoil of the past four years of her life: battling her anonymity, being reduced to just a “victim” and seeing the effects of her grief bear on her family and loved ones. She recalls her experiences (and assault) with such striking detail that the reader can hear her voice, feel what she’s feeling and picture even the orientation of her bedroom or view from the victim stand.
“Know My Name: A Memoir” isn’t a story about being a victim, but a story about being human. Miller takes the reader through her quirks, her relationship with her family and her sister Tiffany, her Chinese heritage and her skill for art and stand-up comedy.
Her writing invites readers into her mind at exact moments of confusion, denial, pain, frustration, fear and joy. She expands on coming to terms with what happened to her, losing the hope she previously held in the court system, wading through the blatant messages of misogyny, not only by her defense attorney, but also by thousands of trolls on the internet.
In the book, Miller says she couldn’t foresee the years of questioning, prodding, victim-blaming and gaslighting about what she perceived was a clear-cut situation. She recalls the differences in how she and Turner were presented in the media.
Turner was hailed “Stanford Swimmer,” known for his record times and aspirations. On the other hand, Miller was prescribed with words like “victim” and “unconscious,” her dreams and accomplishments disregarded into the abyss of patriarchy. “Know My Name: A Memoir” is willing audiences to see her as a human, with a life and story of her own.
Miller also captivates us by disclosing her everyday life, those stretches of time when she made her best efforts to put one foot in front of the other, pursue her interests and cultivate a life that wasn’t trapped inside her victim identity. Equipped with her degree in literature, Miller captures the most intimate, gut-wrenching emotions so poignantly, her words being one of her strongest suits.
She documents writing her unsparing 12-page victim impact statement, which was posted to BuzzFeed in 2016 and instantly went viral.
She read her statement in court before Turner’s sentencing, demanding him to relive the gruesome details of his actions, dismantling the ways he tried to spin the story about drinking culture and unloading the crippling effects that the assault and court process had on her life and relationships. Miller ends her statement as a message of hope and solidarity to girls everywhere.
“Although I can’t save every boat, I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you. Thank you," Miller said.
Miller’s story may reflect a sense of victory but it is in fact one of many trials, tribulations, exasperation and helplessness. She devoted approximately two years of her life fighting for her right to be heard and validated, while Turner spent three months accounting for his actions — which speaks to the racial bias ever present in the criminal justice system.
“Know My Name: A Memoir” reflects an ongoing pursuit of strength and identity and the unsettling reality that women all over the world face. Coming forward last year was an “immense relief,” Miller said to NPR. “I was able to finally exist in the world without having to hide anything."
So for those of you who know her story, take the time to know her name.