You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside of me, and that’s why we’re here today.

Know My Name, Chanel Miller (pg. 294)

In 2016, the criminal case of People vs. Turner broke headlines when Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky granted a lenient 6-month jail sentence to a rapist who was facing a possible 14 years in prison. Brock Turner, a student at Stanford University, was convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman outside of a frat party. His unnamed victim was identified as “Emily Doe” until 2019, when Chanel Miller vanquished her silence in her moving memoir Know My Name.

I introduce myself here, because in the story I’m about to tell, I begin with no name or identity, No character traits or behaviors assigned to me. I was found as a half-naked body, alone and unconscious… nobody knew who I belonged to, where I’d come from, who I was.

Know My Name, Chanel Miller (pg. 1)

The book opens with Miller’s jarring awakening at the hospital after the assault, being poked and prodded by nurses, then interrogated by police officers. Completely disoriented, Miller is unable to recall anything from the night before, in which she went to a Stanford frat party with her sister and a friend. Miller deftly tells her story of being a girl alone and confused, slowly growing conscious of the levity of the brutal assault that has been perpetrated on her body without her consent. Her gradual recollection of the assault is accompanied by the uncoupling of her identity. In the heartwrenching pages that follow, Know My Name explores Miller’s navigation through that painful part of her life, the support, love of her family, friends and boyfriend that kept her afloat, and the injustices of the modern justice system that women face in sexual assault cases.

This moment is not pain, not hysteria, not crying. It is your insides turning to cold stones. It is utter confusion paired with knowing. Gone is the luxury of growing up slowly. So begins the brutal awakening.

Know My Name, Chanel Miller (pg. 6)

Two passerbys in the streets of Stanford saw 19-year old freshman Brock Turner “thrusting upon an immobile, partially unclothed woman next to a dumpster” and held him back while calling the police. When she was looking back on the events while writing the book, Miller came to regard these two individuals as her guardian angels. Her words embody the chilling gut-punch that sexual assault survivors must deal with everyday of their lives, as one’s body becomes an object wholly separate from their control and belonging, and in some cases, morphs into a topic of discussion within courtrooms and media platforms.

He made me his real-life ventriloquist doll, put his hands inside me and made me speak… There was nothing to suggest that I was a person extracted from a full life, surrounded by people who cared about me.

Know My Name, Chanel Miller (pg. 172)

In her writing, Miller goes into depth how at the start of the case, Turner’s legal team did everything in its power to dignify his name while putting words in her mouth. For Turner to ‘win’, he had to “put moans in [Miller’s] mouth,” assert consent in places where it never was, insinuate flirtation and promiscuity on her end (Miller 43). His lawyer was also prompted to build a defense on underage drinking rather than assault claims. Moreover, Turner’s father argued that his son’s reputation as a Stanford swimmer and student was “ruined by 20 minutes of action” – ironically never stopping to consider how Miller’s life was derailed by these same 20 minutes of rape. 

In a world where self-confidence is already doled out sparingly to young women, my supply quickly diminished in court.

Know My Name, Chanel Miller (pg. 234)

Miller draws attention to how every headline said “Stanford swimmer” or “Stanford student” as descriptors of Turner, whereas she was painted as an anonymous party girl who drank in college, wore crop tops and short skirts. The disparaging of the victim in sexual assault cases is common, and made apparent in Miller’s book. Even more appalling was Turner’s full statement to the court blaming his rape of Miller on “party culture” at Stanford and “how one night of drinking can ruin a life” (Miller 248). Turner’s blatant disregard for his actions and ignorance of the impact of rape did spark public outcry, but ultimately still gained him sympathy from some because of his white privilege. After all, American institutions are predated on the idea that whiteness is equated with innate superiority.

The judge had given Brock something that would never be extended to me: empathy. My pain was never more valuable than his potential.

Know My Name, Chanel Miller (pg. 216)

Turner’s whiteness greatly skewed public perception of the case – Miller discusses how multiple institutions such as the hospital, media and courts failed her because of their complicit submission to white privilege. When Miller made it public that she was half white and half Asian American, this shed key light on the unfolding of the case. Miller’s identity is more than her “Asian American-ness”, but the knowledge that she does not possess the same privilege as Turner necessitated a critical analysis of her experience and how she was perceived. At the end of the day, Miller was a woman of color in a court case against a white, heterosexual, cisgender man with generational wealth. She was subjected to scrutiny by a white, heterosexual, cisgender male judge presiding over the court within an institution that has historically marginalized Asian Americans and silenced minority voices – and in a country that chooses disproportionately white cisgender jurors.

In addition to the way he was portrayed in the news, Turner’s light sentence signified the privilege of the elite white men in American society – able to get away basically scot-free, while still garnering the sympathy of some people in spite of being a rapist. Know My Name elucidates the survivor’s perspective of this situation, and makes it heartbreakingly clear that this is not a one-time occurrence. Women of color everywhere are constantly failed by dominant institutions, having their narratives discredited and their bodies ignored and tossed aside. Miller’s book highlights this truth and gives a face to those who have been barraged by the onslaught of institutional oppression. 

Trauma was refusing to adhere to any schedule, didn’t seem to align itself with time. Some days it was distant as a star and other days it would engulf me.

Know My Name, Chanel Miller (pg. 114)

Miller’s book touches on sensitive topics in a firm yet emotional manner – Miller humanizes the survivor’s experience and sheds light on the beautiful mind and soul behind the corporeal body that has been violated. Reading about her experience with the court case was extremely moving and powerful: the way that it was dragged out; the manner in which media attention discredited her character and built up that of a rapists’; the fact that the clothing she was wearing was brought into demonstrate promiscuity and that ‘she wanted it.’ Her statement and memoir made her a real person as opposed to how the media portrayed her as an helpless Jane Doe who had no story or life apart from the assault. Miller’s story ends on a note of hope, telling other assault survivors that they are more than their trauma and that their name is worth knowing. 

This book truly changed me and educated me for the better, and I would recommend it to anyone. I did have to put it down a couple times because of how painful it was to read, but that’s exactly what makes a book good – it causes a reader to feel something: anger, sadness, hope. Miller wrote Know My Name searingly and stunningly, telling a painful story with beautiful words and truly reclaiming her name. It is a narrative that many women unfortunately resonate with, and one that we as a society should educate ourselves on.

Image taken by Amber Phung


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