“Gone is the luxury of growing up slowly. So begins the brutal awakening.”

I recently finished Know My Name by Chanel Miller. If you are unaware of this book, maybe you’ve heard of Brock Turner and Emily Doe (aka Chanel Miller). Chanel Miller was sexually assaulted while unconscious and blacked out. The trial was covered throughout the nation (and world), with her identity kept secret throughout it. This is her story, her silence broken. 

“In this story, I will be calling the defense attorney, the defense. The judge, the judge. They are here to demonstrate the roles they played. This is not a personal indictment, not a clapback, a blacklist, a rehashing. I believe we are all multidimensional beings, and in court, it felt harmful being flattened, characterized, mislabeled, and vilified, so I will not do the same to them. I will use Brock’s name, but the truth is he could be Brad or Brody or Benson, and it doesn’t matter. The point is not their individual significance, but their commonality, all the people enabling a broken system. This is an attempt to transform the hurt inside myself, to confront a past, and find a way to live with and incorporate these memories. I want to leave them behind so I can move forward. In not naming them, I finally name myself. My name is Chanel.”

First off, it was easily a 5 star read for me. You can tell that writing is therapeutic for Chanel Miller.  Her metaphorical writing style expresses all of the emotions that she has endured pertaining to her assault by Brock Turner. It’s her way of dealing with those emotions bubbling out of her without just saying, “I’m hurt. I’m angry. I was violated. You took away my feeling of safety. The End.” Because it’s never as simple as that. We are poetic, layered beings… and the way we express and work through trauma is the greatest nod to those dimensions. 
For all of the metaphors used, she also spoke incredibly clear when it came to the abuse she suffered. I will be quoting her a lot in this blog because I can’t say it much better than she did. Not only did she suffer physically from the assault, but her mental state took a turn. Her emotions ran wild. If this book was simply about the way that Brock physically molested her, it would be a very short book. Assault is more than the physical stuff. It’s everything that comes after, too.
She suffered at the hands of cruel strangers on the internet, willing to drag a stranger and vilify a woman instead of believing a white, privileged male assaulted her. 

“Haven’t you ever heard of gang rape in India. There are women out there suffering real abuse and you want to call this assault. Bored suburban kids can’t keep it in their pants. Lame. It’s not like he dragged her. If she had a boyfriend why wasn’t he there? Mother of the year award. What kind of mom dumps her two daughters at a frat party? Not trying to blame the victim but something is wrong if you drink yourself to unconsciousness . . .She didn’t even go to Stanford. Did she pass out with her underwear off while peeing? Whatever happened to the buddy system? I, for one, am not convinced there was a crime of the felony magnitudes charged here, and possibly no crime at all aside from consensual lewd behavior. Did he give her a roofie? If not, why would any woman get so drunk? I have never allowed myself to get so drunk that I don’t know what I am doing… 

They seemed angry that I’d made myself vulnerable, more than the fact that he’d acted on my vulnerability.”

She suffered at the hands of the trusted individuals in the legal system, the ones that were supposed to help her heal, the ones that were supposed to set an example for other victims of sexual abuse, the ones who are put in place to protect us from people like Brock Turner. There were witnesses that stopped Brock. Brock ran. He was able to lie and create a narrative for Chanel because SHE didn’t remember. 

“When Brock was arrested and questioned by the detective, all the supposed dialogue between us that he failed to mention was not due to a lack of memory. It was due to the fact that he did not have an attorney to help him construct a narrative, feed him words, brush the clouds from his mind, and figure out which story might get him off scot-free.”

They showed videos of her in court with her dress hiked up, behind a dumpster, breast out, and she looked DEAD. Her dad saw these photos and said it looked someone tried to throw a body into the dumpster and missed.The jury favored Chanel. The judge obviously favored Brock, because he got six months in jail with an almost guaranteed release of three months (which he got). You’d think looking at photos of a clearly unconscious woman, after a man has admitted that he was performing sexual acts on said woman, the obvious answer would be to punish harshly (and fairly). Ah, the good old boys club. 

“Alcohol freed Brock of moral culpability. The judge laid out reason after reason: he was youthful, had no prior criminal offenses, no weapons, and the degree of monetary loss to the victim is not really applicable. He said the crime didn’t demonstrate criminal sophistication, Brock did not take advantage of a position of trust or confidence to commit the crime, and registering as a sex offender was already a consequence. Obviously, a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I was struggling to comprehend, wanted to lean forward and tap my DA, What’s happening?“

Chanel knows this isn’t a unique situation, and her anger is for ALL women. The rules are different for men. Chanel cries in court, she’s weak. She’s seeking attention. She’s unfit to testify. She isn’t allowed to get angry. She’s not allowed to be too numb to it. Chanel isn’t allowed to enjoy drinking. She isn’t allowed the mistake of overindulging… because she was born a woman. Her every reaction to her assault was monitored and analyzed. To compare, like Chanel did in this book, remember when Brett Kavanaugh cried in court?  Remember when he threw a fit? Remember him talking about beer? “Well duh, of course he’s crying, why wouldn’t he? Why wouldn’t he be angry? Okay… he likes beer, is that a crime?” Nope, not when you’re a man. Make no mistake, this isn’t a hate letter to men. This is ripping the ugly bandaid off of the misogyny associated to women dealing with pain, to helping victims or catering to their abusers. They uncovered texts of Brock regularly eating acid, smoking, trying different drugs, multiple run ins with the campus police over alcohol. None of this was a judge of his character. Chanel’s dress, her phone call to her boyfriend about sex, her alcohol tolerance WERE ALL front and center, a defamation to her character. Those don’t define her. They don’t make sexual assault okay, or more understandable. Brock’s recreational drug and alcohol use don’t define him. What he DID to her should be the defining factor. I love that when Brock’s father and the judge said that Brock’s “twenty minutes of action” would cost him so much for so little, Chanel immediately related it to swimming, which Brock excelled in. One one-hundredth of a second can cause you to lose everything in swimming… but twenty minutes shouldn’t mean anything when it comes to sexually abusing your power over an unconscious girl? 

 Twenty minutes was just the beginning: Who counts the six-hour flights we took back and forth across the country? Who counts the doctor visits, the hours spent wringing my hands in therapy, the nights spent lying awake? Who counts the trips to Kohl’s, wondering is this blouse too tight? Who counts the days devoid of writing or reading or creating, instead wondering why I should wake up in the morning? Who counts it?

At the very start of the sentencing, the judge said that the question he had to ask himself was, Is incarceration in state prison the right answer for the poisoning of Chanel’s life? I thought it had been strange the way he’d phrased it. To him, my lost job, my damaged hometown, my small savings account, my stolen pleasures, had all amounted to ninety days in county jail.”

Chanel so eloquently points out that Brock was treated with empathy by the judge and many others, something that would never be extended to her by these people. Poor Brock, he sexually assaulted someone and *gasp* is expected to face consequences for it. Chanel’s hours of therapy don’t matter to them, the way it has changed her relationship with sex and sexuality don’t matter, the shattering of her feelings of safety don’t matter, the money she put into this case doesn’t matter, the analyzation of her body by medical professionals/legal professionals/family/friends/strangers… NONE of that mattered to this judge and to Brock or his family. She was a girl who got fingered while unconscious behind a dumpster, “whoo hoo, er… I mean, 90 days in jail, you naughty boy.”

“There is a certain carefree feeling that was stripped from me the night of the assault. How to distinguish spontaneity from recklessness? How to prove nudity is not synonymous with promiscuity? Where’s the line between caution and paranoia? This is what I’m mourning, this is what I do not know how to get back. Still I keep those memories close and remember it is possible to be naked, amongst men, and not be asking for it.”

This issue with the legal system isn’t uncommon. I watched a friend go through this. I went to court with her. Talked to police. She was young, he was a trusted adult. Known for encouraging his young daughter’s friends to drink around him. A pedophile. A year in jail, out in six. Much like Chanel’s case, the prosecutor confused (bullied) her into agreeing to less time. The cop on the case made a deal with the abuser for less time in exchange for information that would be a bigger win for the cop reputation. When you aren’t familiar with a legal system, it’s easy to get confused. You’re trusting people to work for you and your wellbeing. It’s often not the case. This isn’t okay. Chanel writes that it’s completely possible for the boy next door, the trusted adult, the president, the judge, people of usually upstanding character… to sexually abuse someone. The good person you know is able to be a person who has done bad things, too. The goodness that they’ve done for you doesn’t excuse the bad they’ve done to others. They’re two separate things.  Chanel… thank you. Thank you for being strong enough to write this. Thank you for months of your case being plastered to every insensitive asshole with a smartphone or computer. Thank you for SCREAMING at the men who catcalled you daily, after this. Thank you for scaring them. I’m sorry that it has come to that. I’m sorry that you HAVE to scream that you don’t have any interest in a man for them to leave you alone. I’m sorry all women deal with this. 

“Men had lines other men didn’t cross, an unspoken respected space. I imagined a thick line drawn like a perimeter around Lucas. Men would speak to me as if no line existed, every day I was forced to redraw it as quickly as I could. Why weren’t my boundaries inherent?

…screamed with my chest open, ruthlessly. My friends were stunned, began laughing, and the men grew testy, looking around uncomfortably, stuck at the red light. They began peppering my scream with Crazy bitch! Crazy bitch! But I didn’t care. Their polished Mustang, their specks of hair, their dumb logistics; even if we did want to come to the club, we couldn’t all fit in the tiny car. I don’t want to have sex with you, I don’t want to go to the club, I don’t want you walking next to me, asking me where I’m going, how I’m doing, in a tone that wraps around me and pulls my shoulders up into my ears, making me want to go deaf and disappear. The tire full of nails had burst, tinkling like rain down onto their car. I felt powerful, intimidating, insane. I didn’t care if the entire world woke up.”

Chanel, you are paving the way to a safer world for women. We aren’t there yet, we’re not even close, but you’ve taken the first step. You’re brilliant. You’re not just a victim. My thoughts have been jumbled here, there’s a lot of quotes and a lot more I want to say. Just read this memoir. Women, hug each other. Men, please understand how exhausting it is to walk around every day trying to make yourself smaller as to not get catcalled, covering your drinks at the bars, evaluating the attention that your clothes will draw from salacious eyes. Some of you roll your eyes when you hear this stuff. Please uncondition yourself to misogyny. Don’t call at that random woman walking down the street. Don’t take it upon yourself to touch a woman without asking. We are tired of being told to protect ourselves because men can’t control themselves. Be an ally to the women around you. Open your eyes. We aren’t all just bitching to bitch. We deal with the burden of being expected to be FLATTERED by unwanted attention. We just want to be left alone. We want women’s bodies to be as OURS, as men’s are to THEM.

Do not become the ones who hurt you. Stay tender with your power. Never fight to injure, fight to uplift. Fight because you know that in this life, you deserve safety, joy, and freedom.

2 thoughts on “Know My Name by Chanel Miller: A Review and Reflections

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