It has been less than a year since Emily Doe, the survivor of the infamous 2015 Stanford sexual assault case, bravely revealed her identity as Chanel Miller. In October of 2019, Chanel Miller published her memoir titled “Know My Name” where she details her life before, during and after her assault with incredible honesty and fearlessness. Immediately after I read this book over winter break, I knew I wanted to share my praise for Miller as her courage is admirable and her savvy writing inspires.
If the Stanford sexual assault case doesn’t ring a bell for you, let me refresh your memory: In 2015, a freshman Stanford swimmer by the name of Brock Turner sexually assaulted a woman behind a dumpster. The case garnered intense media attention because Turner was a privileged, white, elite athlete with whom a good portion of the American public sided with, claiming it would be such a shame if he was convicted and his life ruined over a “small” mistake. Chanel would read comments on media walls such as “But he’s such a GOOD boy, surely he couldn’t have done this,” “She’s lying!” and even comments along the lines of “It was her fault she was so drunk! I heard she was wearing a short dress too.” Her memoir allows the reader not only an incredibly personal look at how the assault affected her work, relationships and mental health, but grants us access into the mind of someone vilified by the modern media.
The People v. Turner case attracted additional media attention when Miller, still concealed as Emily Doe, read a victim impact statement at Turner’s sentencing. Her statement went viral, attracting a response from former President Barack Obama to thousands of sexual assault survivors who praised her ability to encapsulate what it means to be a survivor of assault. Her statement has been read over 11 million times and counting. Ultimately, Brock Turner was convicted of three counts of felony assault. However, his jail sentence of only six months, which he served half, caused national outcry which focused on the inequities of the justice system and left Miller and other survivors questioning the worth of their bodies.
For years she attempted to distance herself from this identity of “Emily Doe,” but her desire to separate her identity as a victim and as the Chanel who existed and thrived before her assault was impossible. She could no longer do work she used to love, could no longer feel safe walking in the daylight and her life revolved around ever-changing yet numerous court dates. By writing this deeply sad yet empowering book, Chanel Miller exposes the faults of our criminal and judiciary systems and forces readers to think about how sexual assault cases should be handled.
Finally, she candidly reveals how sexual assault affects all aspects of one’s life and doesn’t simply go away with time, therapy or even support from friends and family. Her bravery has inspired thousands to come forward with their stories and I truly believe her book has and will change the way we talk about and address sexual assault in this country. I urge you to read this memoir. In fact, I beg you to take the time to thoughtfully decipher Chanel Miller’s message through a narrative that will undoubtedly leave a mark on modern American culture.