Chanel Miller’s “Know My Name” opens discussion around sexual assault

Chanel Miller’s “Know My Name” opens discussion around sexual assault

Photo Credits: KIYOMI WATSON / AGGIE

Paving the way for other women

Before the #MeToo movement went viral in 2017, there was one account of sexual assault in 2015 that gripped the nation and flooded news outlets. Chanel Miller, known at the time as “Emily Doe,” was assaulted by Brock Turner during a fraternity party at Stanford University. 

During the trial, the media gave Turner a backstory and expressed sympathy for his circumstances. He was an Olympic swimmer, a strong student and a young man with a “future that was once bright,” according to an article from the Washington Post

Although Turner was convicted on three counts of felony sexual assault, he only served three months in a county jail. Judge Aaron Persky claimed that, “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him.” It’s worth noting that Judge Aaron Persky was recalled from his judgeship in 2018.

Throughout the case, the identity of Emily Doe remained a secret. The media did not know her name, much less her story — that is, until the victim impact statement she gave after the ruling went viral in 2016. When the statement was published on Buzzfeed, over 18,000,000 people read it. Countless letters of support were sent to Miller. Other survivors of assault and harassment reached out to share their own stories and to let her know that they felt heard. Miller became the voice of survivors, even when her identity remained hidden.

“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that is why we’re here,” Miller’s statement read.

After years of anonymity, the identity of Emily Doe was revealed when Miller published “Know My Name” on Sept. 24, 2019. This memoir follows what Miller remembers from the night of the assault as well as the struggles she continues to face years later. She described her psychological state during the trial and the emotional toll of recovery. 

The novel was hugely successful and has been lauded for its powerful language and important insight into the judicial processes and injustices regarding sexual assault cases. 

“‘Know My Name” is more than an indictment, though it is a successful and moving one,” reads an article in Elle magazine. “It is also an outstretched hand, inviting you to fight alongside her.” 

In her memoir, Miller discusses the power of the #MeToo movement and the way it affected her writing. Tarana Burke began the movement which gained prominence in 2017. Miller writes that it allowed survivors the “relief of finally being given a chance to set the story down, to see what it felt like to walk around, breathe.” 

The impact is still here. Laws and culture are changing — an article in Vox detailed the ripple effects of the movement, such as increased protection for workers and a ban of nondisclosure agreements that cover sexual harassment. The movement extended globally as well.

#MeToo has also changed the way we tell stories and allowed new voices to enter the mainstream. Miller’s memoir is a powerful example of what art and storytelling in particular can look like in a post-MeToo world. Suddenly topics viewed as taboo that had previously been relegated to niche media outlets are now seen on everyday platforms in a variety of different genres. 

“Every woman who spoke out did so because she hit a point where she could no longer live another day in the life she tried to build,” Miller writes. “Society thinks we live to come after him. When in fact, we live to live.” 

After 2017, the lives of survivors and their stories were something more and more people wanted to learn about. The film “Bombshell,” released on Dec. 20, 2019, depicted the Fox News scandal involving sexual harassment and the mysogonistic culture in the network perpetuated by Roger Ailes. The film earned $4.1 million in its opening weekend and starred award-winning actors Charlize Theron and Nicole Kidman. 

Series such as Netflix’s 2019 “Unbelievable” are shifting the way people tell true-crime stories. Rather than focusing on the perpetrator, his crimes or why he committed them, this series chose to delve into the stories of the survivors. 

From the “Handmaid’s Tale” being one of the most praised series in recent years to Peggy Oreinstein’s “Boys and Sex” becoming a New York Times bestseller, it is obvious that the world is ready for deeper conversations about consent and sexual politics. 

Miller paved the way for this. Even in 2015, the injustice and pain she experienced resonated with people. It was a sign to the public that something in society was deeply broken, and that change would be necessary to mend it. 

“If [a survivor] emerges, why don’t we ask her how it was possible she lived with that hurt for so long,” Miller writes. “Ask her who taught her to never uncover it.”

Written by: Alyssa Ilsley — arts@theaggie.org

1 Comment on this Post

  1. Paula Tuziak

    I just finished the book. It took me months because of my own unresolved sexual assaults, by a police officer, face down, handcuffed. There were others, but this one was the epitome of betrayal. I was accused of assaulting him to justify my bruises caused by him crushing my throat when I was screaming for help. And when they realized I was going to report it, I was the one declared incompetent. I was in active addiction. I will never remotely get justice…I even reported to the FBI, after I got out, I doubt a report was ever written.I will forever carry the scars. I didn’t have the support of family. So when this hit the media, I gave the support I would have liked. I reposted and reposted until we hit the numbers of required signatures and made sure I was registered to vote. I can’t change mine but I can help change somebody else’s. Chanel’s justice fell far short from what it should have been, but I thank God, that she accomplished the monumental task of getting the boulder rolling. Most would sink deeper into addiction, I used rock bottom as my new foundation. My sponsor told me the best revenge is a successful life and mine has been phenomenal over the last 20 years. I too am an ally. And for every letter she received, there were at least a dozen that wished they would have, like me. Now, I have and a voice that cannot be discredited.

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