Review: Know My Name by Chanel Miller
This is the memoir of Emily Doe, the alter ego of Chanel Miller who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner on Stanford's college campus grounds, behind a dumpster during a frat party. The book covers the assault, the court case, the sentencing and the years of pain enduring to push for social change. This can be considered as a key part of the #metoo movement.
This book was incredibly hard to read. It brings any emotions you have on the subject of sexual assault - whether you know a survivor or you are one yourself - and forces you to confront them page after page. We are used to reading something like this on the news. A short post (much like this blog) where you read it, you're horrified and then can put your phone down and stop reading. But this is pages and pages demonstrating how the system in place constantly allows a rapist to be pitied and the victim can never win. Especially in cases like these, where the defendant is white, wealthy, and has no previous run-ins with the law. You are forced to confront times that you have victim blamed, or slut shamed, or been a rapist sympathiser by feeling judgemental on a woman's choices on how she chooses to dress, how much she decides to drink, how sexually active and liberated she decides to be with her own body.
I could quote this book all day long. There are thousands of important and earth shattering points that are made in this book. But I have picked out some that stuck with me; things I could not get out of my head.
Test results when there IS evidence taking so long to receive: There were hundreds in line before me, some kits kept so long they grew mould, some thrown out, the lucky ones refrigerated.
She mentions how having a boyfriend made her a 'more desirable victim.' If she'd been raped the previous summer when she was casually dating, she would not be a desirable victim, and would be considered sexually promiscuous. The defence would question the likelihood of her not consenting when in her personal life, she is willing to sleep with multiple men without commitment. With such a media-frenzy surrounding the trial, many people were able to chime in with their own destructive opinions: "if she has a boyfriend, she'd probably cry rape because she's guilty for cheating." Others telling her is was a shame she was going to ruin Brock Turner's life.
My hospital bill arrived, just short of a thousand dollars. My dad called me into the living room, asked me if I knew anything about being reimbursed. I told him about restitution, how Brock would be court-ordered to pay it off, but only at the end. It would be paid back, I promise. But I wondered how many costs would accumulate. I learned it was expensive to be assaulted.
She thought it would be easy, as she was telling the truth, and he was lying. There were witnesses; two men that stopped him and tackled him to the ground, so traumatised by what they'd seen they were unable to speak to the police as they cried and cried.
Even he could not change the truth. The way I saw it, my side was going to convince the jury that the big yellow thing in the sky is the sun. His side had to convince the jury that it's an egg yolk. Even the most eminent attorney would not be able to change the fact that it is a massive blazing star, not a ludicrous floating egg. But I had yet to understand the system. If you pay enough money, if you say the right things, if you take enough time to weaken and dilute the truth, the sun could slowly begin to look like an egg. Not only was this possible, it happens all the time.
My DA would later tell me women aren't preferred on juries of rape cases because they're likely to resist empathising with the victim, insisting 'there must be something wrong with her because that would never happen to me.' I thought of the mothers who had commented, 'My daughters would never...' which made me sad because comments like that did not make her daughter any safer, just ensured that if the daughter was raped, she'd likely have one less person to go to.
She had to make active decisions about her makeup and outfit choices for court - pretty. But not too pretty. Only a little bit of mascara. There's an uncomfortable number of questions about her drinking habits, her desires to hook up with someone that night. Are you a party animal? Do you usually black out? How many times have you blacked out? How much did you drink? What were you wearing? How were you behaving at the party?
When charges were dropped from 5 counts to 3 (due to there being no semen found), of course she was relieved. Happy to know he never put his penis inside her. However this lead to internet trolls demanding she apologise for tainting his reputation. Whilst she was in court, having to face her rapist day after day, she was cross examined ruthlessly, striking things from the record whenever elaborating her points so she could never speak freely.
When all was said and done, the assault was described as moderate due to the fact she could not remember it (despite waking up in a hospital with debris in her vagina, pine needles in her hair and cuts and blood over her body) and also due to the fact that Brock Turner was considered a victim himself. Him being an Olympic swimmer and his academic achievements were constantly brought up. The fact he was drunk himself abstained him from a moral obligation to refrain from sexually assaulting an unconscious young woman.
Once the sentencing hearing happened, Brock was only sentenced for 6 months. That's 3 months with good behaviour. Here are some examples of other misdemeanours that can have you put in county jail for 6 months: digging a bonfire pit at the beach, flying a drone, tampering with a fire extinguisher and trespassing on a construction site.
She used an analogy that made me want to give up on the book. I took an extraordinary long amount of time to read this book to what I'm used to as I couldn't read it alone, and I couldn't read it before going to bed. They tell you if you're assaulted, there's a kingdom, a courthouse, high up on a mountain where justice can be found. Most victims are turned away at the base of the mountain, told they don't have enough evidence to make the journey. Some victims sacrifice everything to make the climb, but are slain along the way, the burden of truth impossibly high. I set off, accompanied by a strong team, who helped carry the weight, until I made it, the summit, the place few victims reached, the promised land. We'd gotten an arrest, a guilty verdict, the small percentage that gets a conviction. It was time to see what justice looked like. We threw open the doors and there was nothing. It took the breath out of me. Even worse was looking down to the bottom of the mountain, where I imagined expectant victims looking up, waving, cheering, expectantly. "What do you see? What does it feel like? What happens when you arrive?" What could I tell them? A system does not exist for you. The pain of this process couldn't be worth it. These crimes were not crimes but inconveniences. You can fight and fight and for what? When you are assaulted, run and never look back. This was not one bad sentence. This was the best we could hope for.
I caught myself crying publicly on London public transport as she had to repeat to herself over and over again that she was worth more than 3 months. If you have seen me holding this book and sobbing uncontrollably on the bus, I can only encourage you to read this book. If you are a survivor, please read this WITH CAUTION. It is triggering. But even just reading the victim impact statement at the back of the book that was published on Buzzfeed in 2016 is vital to understanding this perspective. If you know a survivor, if you're a man, woman, father, mother, anyone: please read this book.
I was worried this book would deter victims coming forward. And maybe it will. But there are already enough deterrents - we know the statistics. We know the tiny red dot on the chart of white that represents a conviction. Instead, this book is an honest look at the truth of what it means to be a victim and a survivor in a system that abhorrently doesn't care. But we now know that the Me Too movement has not only encouraged more women to come forward (if this is what they want to do) but more importantly, that men are less likely to rape women. This beautifully written memoir is part of this movement of change, but to support the change, we have to understand where we started.