Know My Name By Chanel Miller
"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...Know My Name is one woman's story. But it's also every woman's story...Know My Name marks the debut of a gifted young writer. Miller's words are purpose. They are maps. And she is a treasure who has prevailed." - Jennifer Weiner, The New York Times
"Know My Name is a blistering, beautifully written account of a courageous young woman's struggle to hold a sexual predator accountable. Stand back, folks: This book is going to give a huge blast of momentum to the #MeToo movement."--Jon Krakauer
She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford's campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral--viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.
Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways--there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.
Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. It also introduces readers to an extraordinary writer, one whose words have already changed our world. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.
It could have been an entirely different story, one so ordinary in its violent diminishment of a woman. The script is well-worn. An assault at a student party; a disorienting walk through hospital clinics and police stations; panic attacks; a forensic examination of your character. How much did you drink? Why did you go to that party? Did you have a stable relationship with your boyfriend? You react by receding further into yourself. Perhaps you drop the charges; perhaps the judge is lenient. Your assailant soon gets on with his life, free to walk the halls of power. Trust the system, you were told.
But sometimes there are facts that bring you closer to something resembling justice. For a 22-year-old recent university graduate known to the world as “Emily Doe”, there were a few. Fact: Brock Turner, the man who assaults her behind a fraternity house skip in January 2015, is a Stanford University student and swimmer. Spiralling media attention in what is deemed the “Stanford swimmer case” means her rape forensic evidence kit receives expedited processing, thus avoiding, she later relates, the fate of a hundred others collecting dust in a slow-moving backlog. Fact: there are two witnesses to the assault, male graduate students who happen to be cycling past. They chase Turner away, and testify in Doe’s favour. Fact: after Turner is found guilty on three felony counts in March 2016, Doe, now 23, writes a powerful 7,000-word letter addressed to her attacker that she reads aloud at his sentencing. It is published on BuzzFeed in June and goes viral, receiving 15m views within a week.
The letter is read aloud by congresswomen in the House of Representatives and, in response, California’s laws for sexual assault are amended to support future victims. Its opening line is often cited: “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.” When I first read it, I was also haunted by two other lines: “Sometimes I think, if I hadn’t gone, then this never would’ve happened. But then I realised it would have happened, just to somebody else.” What a strange world it is in which 23-year-olds are reflecting on the randomness of the cruelty inflicted on them.
Earlier this month, “Emily Doe” revealed herself to be Chanel Miller, a half-Chinese artist and writer from California. Miller, now 27, looks back at her high-profile sexual assault case in Know My Name. In the three years since the sentencing, she has gathered court transcripts and witness testimonies withheld from her during the case, which inform her memoir. The book blends Miller’s meditations on her life over the past few years with a discussion of the institutions that handle sexual assault cases: the police, the courts, and, in this instance, the university. Courtroom interrogations, ostensibly seeking objective facts, become contests over whose narrative draws the most sympathy. University administrators offer, then withdraw, their support in the face of potential litigation. The neutral faces of institutions, her story shows, so easily slip to reveal highly subjective battles over whose pain counts for what.
The title of the book denotes declarative self-affirmation, something constantly denied to Miller after she woke up at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Centre in January 2015 with a police deputy and Stanford dean at her bedside. The last thing she remembers is stepping outside the fraternity house with her sister the night before. From then on, her life no longer feels like it is hers. In a daze at the medical centre, she is told there is reason to believe she has been assaulted and signs a stack of papers consenting to an immediate examination. Ten days later, on coming across an article online at work, she learns the full story of what happened to her. She reads of Turner’s life as an “Olympic hopeful” and discovers she is referred to as an “unconscious woman”. This dynamic will carry over into the courtroom, where, she relates, Turner’s ambitions, past accomplishments and present pain are magnified in testimonies from swimming coaches and ex-girlfriends. She, on the other hand, becomes a woman who failed to adequately protect herself against the natural lechery of the world that night in January, her use of alcohol thoroughly questioned. “His history included his childhood, education, summer jobs, sweet relationships,” she writes. “My history was blackouts one through five.”
The book unveils what those on the outside can’t see. Miller recalls the repeated postponement of her trials, which leaves her schedule agonisingly beholden to someone else’s whims; her recurrent feelings of panic and dread that emerge long after the attack; the rebuilding of her life, as she takes art classes and joins comedy troupes to recover a sense of self. In the midst of all this, she navigates a byzantine legal system, often having to sit in the same courtroom as her attacker. One of the many lessons that comes across is how sexual assault victims need greater guidance through these worlds. When Miller agrees to press charges against Turner, she does so casually over the phone to a detective, right after she is discharged from the hospital. She does not realise what that will entail, thinking it to be the “equivalent to signing a petition”. A year and a half later, Miller is talking to a probation officer about Turner’s sentencing and confuses jail with prison (jail typically holds people awaiting trial or serving short sentences while those in prison tend to be serving longer sentences for more severe offences). She is sure that the officer twists her meaning, playing down the anguish in her testimony to recommend a short county jail sentence for Turner.
When it was published in 2016, Miller’s letter stunned readers with the clarity of her voice, acuity of her rage and expansiveness of her empathy towards those in need of support. Her story offered other victims a shared language; Miller recalls receiving thousands of supportive letters from women recounting their own stories. Her memoir has this same mix of the intimate with the communal, placing her own pain against a backdrop of shared suffering. At the end of Turner’s sentencing, she feels as if she has climbed a high mountain of justice, a climb that many fellow victims have not been able to scale. Exhausted, she imagines looking down, “where I imagined expectant victims looking up, waving, cheering, expectantly … What could I tell them? The system does not exist for you.” Against a system that leads victims to recede into their own spheres of private suffering, Know My Name creates a space where this pain can sit and receive support from others.
The last few chapters discuss the #MeToo movement and its landmark moments: the Harvey Weinstein revelations; the US gymnastics case; Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. When listening to women tell their stories, Miller stresses, it is important to let them sit with their hurt and anger and resist the urge to pre-emptively tie up their suffering with a bow through platitudes of courage. There is a final irony in how Stanford University, after agreeing to mount a plaque memorialising her story on campus, proposed as the inscribed quote: “I’m right here, I’m okay. Everything’s okay, I’m right here.” (Stanford had rejected Miller’s suggestions, finding them too emotionally charged.) These were the words, she tells us, she told her sister after being released from the hospital, hiding her own panic for her sister’s comfort. Even after cases are concluded, the pain of victims is diminished by the false friend of commemorating one’s bravery. In a world that asks too many survivors to keep their experiences to themselves and shrink their suffering to preserve someone else’s potential, Know My Name stands unapologetically large, asking others to reckon with its author’s dazzling, undiminishable presence. To read it, in spite of everything, inspires hope.
“Know My Name is a devastating, immersive memoir…Miller is an extraordinary writer: plain, precise and moving.” ─NPR
“Know My Name is a gut-punch, and in the end, somehow, also blessedly hopeful…She implores us, too, to challenge and question the systems that aren’t working. As we examine how to prevent and prosecute sexual assault cases, this last lesson may be the most important of all.” ─Washington Post
“She writes exquisitely of her pain, makes us feel every fragment of it, but also expounds on the kindness that nourished her spirit…Miller matters. Readers will see every victim matters.” ─USA Today
“In a perfect world, Know My Name would be required reading for every police officer, detective, prosecutor, provost and judge who deals with victims of sexual assault.” ─LA Times
“To tell her story at all is enough…the fact that Miller tells it beautifully, caring enough for her reader to spin golden sentences from her pain, is a gift on top of a gift.” ─Vogue
“In a world that asks too many survivors to keep their experiences to themselves and shrink their suffering to preserve someone else’s potential, Know My Name stands unapologetically large, asking others to reckon with its author’s dazzling, undiminishable presence. To read it, in spite of everything, inspires hope.”—The Guardian
“Miller provides one of the most moving and humanizing depictions of sexual assault I have ever read… Know My Name features the kind of intimate, coming-of-age storytelling that you don’t find in a typical story about a crime and its aftermath. She lets us see her in quiet moments and jubilant ones, in moments of doubt and moments of strength…In giving us the gift of knowing her, Miller has written a singular testament to the human cost of sexual violence, and a powerful reminder of why we fight.” ─The Cut
“In its rare honesty and in its small details, Know My Name is both an open wound and a salve, a quiet cry and the loudest scream…Know My Name is more than an indictment, though it is a successful and moving one. It is also an outstretched hand, inviting you to fight alongside her.”─Elle
“Miller’s memoir is beautifully written, underscored by simmering indignation.” ─Jezebel
“Compelling and essential…Miller reminds us that our stories are worth telling, that the names and the lives attached to those names matter.” ─SF Chronicle
“Miller’s new memoir echoes her powerful victim-impact statement… It’s a beautiful revealing self-portrait. It’s funny and it’s heartbreaking, and it’s an inspiration. There’s just no other way to say it: the writing is exquisite.” ─The Daily Beast
“Miller makes a powerful case for overhauling a system that retraumatizes victims of sexual violence even in successful cases, perpetuating the feedback loop that discourages victims from coming forward to seek justice.” ─Mother Jones
About the Author
Chanel Miller is a writer and artist who received her BA in Literature from the College of Creative Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She lives in San Francisco, California.
#As a sexual assault survivor who was raped and going thru the court system at the same time as Chanel, the Brock Turner rape case was inextricably tied to the ups and downs of my own recovery. I was her and she was me as the court system churned and slowly tortured us both. To be able to read her statement and see it gain global attention helped me immensely to put words to what I had experienced.
Now I got to preorder her book, know her name, and support her. I read this book in about seven hours. It was like walking back thru the last 4 years of my own recovery in an alternate universe—Chanel’s universe. I found everything she said so grounding in its honesty. It was never unnecessarily graphic or gruesome for cheap shock value, but a rich and complex prose of how it is to be a woman and lose any girlish notions of safety or naïveté when sexual violence occurs.
This is as accurate a portrait of survivorship as one can find and there are millions of portraits just like her walking around you everyday as 1 in 5 women experience sexual violence.
Chanel is unique and beautiful and yet not unique as millions identify with her experiences. Please read and support this critical and multilayered analysis of her experience as she ties it to her childhood all the way thru several current political events of today.
My boyfriend supported me for wherever I needed to be emotionally while reading this book, sleeping on the couch to stay in the room with me til almost 4am when I was done. He knows I am a sexual abuse survivor and now he can read this book and the weight of trying to describe on my own what that’s like is lighter because Chanel has sacrificed yet again.
Lastly, I want to say this book was very healing for my sense of self esteem. It’s hard to explain why but hearing ways she has reclaimed herself thru the endless war with herself as a victim mirrors my fight also. Her validation journey helps me access more firmly my own validation. I cried more happy healing tears than sad tears. I will never forget this book.
#I was happy to learn Chanel’s name and to learn she had written a book. I pre-ordered it. I decided to buy the kindle version because I wanted to have it immediately.
The book did not disappoint. I’m drawn to her writing style. I enjoyed learning about the routines and life she had created while going through that long difficult court process. I enjoyed reading about the small moments she found solace and comfort in others, from the door women in Philadelphia, to the classmates in her summer art program, to everything that held her together even just momentarily.
I think many will find this book invaluable, especially survivors of sexual assault. In a section Chanel wrote, “I’ve found that victims identify more with pain than with platitudes. When I write about weakness, about how I am barely getting though this, my hope is that they feel better, because it aligns with the truth that they are living.”
I’ve never experienced sexual assault fortunately, but this book filled me with empathy and love for survivors everywhere. I also found this book meaningful because it resonated with my own personal battles with depression. Like Chanel, I’ve found comfort in “mundane” interactions with family, strangers, my dogs. Like Chanel, (in regards to her scuba diving story) I remember there’s other words existing that remind me of how beautiful life still is.
I’ll end my review with more of Chanel’s beautiful words:
“We may spend half our time wandering around, wondering what we’re even doing here, why it’s worth the effort. But living is an incredible thing, just to have been here, to have felt, if only briefly, the volume and depth of others’ empathy. I wrote, most of all, to tell you I have seen how good the world could be.”
Chanel, if you somehow read this, just know I hold you in warmth and love and sincerely wish you the best in life. I’m not alone in that sentiment. Many are admiring you and sending you love. I’m so glad children will have the gift of your books.
Know My Name, Chanel Miller