Thursday, September 26, 2019
Her name is Chanel Miller.
For four years, she has been known publicly as Emily Doe, "an unconscious woman" or simply "Brock Turner's victim." In her memoir Know My Name, she wants to set the record straight: "I am a victim, I have no qualms with this word, only with the idea that it is all that I am," she writes. "However, I am not Brock Turner's victim. I am not his anything."
In 2015, Miller was sexually assaulted by Turner on Stanford University's campus. Two Swedish graduate students were passing by on bikes and chased Turner off an unconscious Miller. Turner was convicted of three felonies but served only three months of a six-month sentence in county jail. The case became notorious for its illustration of the race and wealth gap in sentencing, and for the stinging eloquence of Miller's victim statement, which went instantly viral when it was published by BuzzFeed.
Know My Name is a devastating, immersive memoir of her sexual assault and its aftermath. We live with Miller minute by minute, thinking and feeling with her. At points, particularly during the account of her testimony, it is hard to read it and breathe at the same time.
“Know My Name” is an act of reclamation. On every page, Miller unflattens herself, returning from Victim or Emily Doe to Chanel, a beloved daughter and sister, whose mother emigrated from China to learn English and become a writer and whose father is a therapist; a girl who was so shy that, in an elementary school play about a safari, she played the grass. Miller reads “Rumi, Woolf, Didion, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Banana Yoshimoto, Miranda July, Chang-rae Lee, Carlos Bulosan.” She rides her bike “through the Baylands … across crunchy salt and pickleweed.” She fosters elderly rescue dogs with names like Butch and Remy and Squid. She rages against a form that identifies “victim’s race” as white. “Never in my life have I checked only white. You cannot note my whiteness without acknowledging I am equal parts Chinese.”
“Know My Name” is one woman’s story. But it’s also every woman’s story — the story of a world whose institutions are built to protect men; a world where sexual objectification is ubiquitous and the threat of sexual violence is constant. Before Turner assaulted her, Miller had already survived one act of deadly misogyny near her college, the University of California at Santa Barbara, when Elliot Rodger, a privileged young man enraged that he’d never had a girlfriend, went on a spree and killed six people.
After the assault, Miller enrolls in art school in Rhode Island. But the East Coast proves no safer. Walking back from class, “I passed three men sitting on a car who fastened their eyes on my legs, clicked their tongues and smacked their lips, performing the sounds and hand gestures one might use if attempting to summon a cat. … I trained myself to tuck my head down, avoiding eye contact, feigning invisibility.”
Miller takes us through the trial, her steadfast, supportive attorney, the humiliation of testifying, her rage when Judge Aaron Persky sentences Turner to just six months in county jail and probation, because a longer sentence would have a “severe impact” on the onetime Olympic hopeful. She quotes Turner’s father’s complaints that “these verdicts have broken and shattered” his son, who can no longer enjoy the rib-eye steaks he once loved. Turner himself says that he wants to “speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity.” “He had lived shielded under a roof where the verdict was never accepted, where he would never be held accountable,” Miller writes.
And then there was Stanford. “Their apathy, their lack of apology I could live with, but what troubled me most was their failure to ask the single most important question: How do we ensure this does not happen again?”
Eventually, there’s a hint of justice, a tiny rebalancing of the scales. Judge Persky is recalled. Turner’s appeal is denied. Miller writes an incandescent, awesomely angry victim impact statement that blazes across the internet, beginning, “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that is why we’re here.” While Turner registers as a sex offender, Miller signs a book contract. She texts her mother a picture of herself in New York City, enjoying a celebratory dessert of grilled peaches. Her mother texts back, “You are mommy’s dream.”