"You don't know me, but you've been inside me, and that's why we're here today."
She was known to the world as Emily 'unconscious intoxicated woman' Doe till she took back her name and narrative with her memoir, Know My Name. Today, we know her to be Chanel Miller.
Chanel was digitally raped by Brock Turner in January of 2015. She had gone to a Stanford party with her sister, Tiffany and her friends and she woke up later on the street, clothes and hair dishevelled. Not fathoming what happened to her, she tried to go back to her life after the events, but she could not recognise the other woman that inhibited her body. We later find that Brock had been chased and stopped by two Swedes (graduate students) and that he was released on bail less than 24 hours after he raped her.
"Do you understand, when you ask a victim to report, what you're telling her to walk into?"
Chanel brings attention to the aggravation and numbing agony she went through, along with everyone she loved. The book spans over several years, an indicator that her journey to justice is not quick but drawn out over long court sessions prone to postponing trials and appeals, cross-examinations and verdicts.
Her road to recovery is also non-linear. Anyone who says it is only an uphill battle does not understand how crippling trauma and pain sneaks their way into regular activities. As such, her narration follows her thoughts and feelings. The book was not chronological, we jumped from one time to the other, but each time jump served a purpose to her story. So I did not mind keeping up.
At one point, Chanel tells us that so many people do not report their assaults because "often it seems easier to suffer rape alone than face the dismembering that comes with seeking support". After reading what she went through, I would agree. With what I see happening in Bangladesh and all over the world, I wholeheartedly agree. Every action of the victim is scrutinised if their charges see the face of a courtroom, something not common in Bangladesh because rapists here are rarely convicted, if at all. And this is where, Chanel notes, lies the problem. How everyone knows but still brushes it off as a 'normalised' part of the society.
She writes at the very beginning that she will name Brock as himself as it did not matter if he was Brock, he could be Brad or someone else and it still would not matter because their individual significance was outweighed by a commonality: they were all part of a broken system. She mentions that we are quick to accept certain people as rapists and victims because of their appearance and the truth is, a modestly dressed girl can be a victim as much as a young bright, intelligent boy can be a rapist. She earnestly mentions how as a society, we need to recognise that everyone possesses the capability of doing evil deeds, no matter how good they were the rest of the time. A person is capable of both and that is a tantalising truth that she held onto throughout her story.
Rape statistics are higher than what is reported, and this is a common national secret in every country. Despite wanting to, Chanel did not back down from the case, she persevered and because she did, at the end of the case, hundreds of women came forward in solidarity and support. Many of them cited Chanel as an inspiration; she received national recognition; her victim impact statement was globally trending and eventually led to the state (California, USA) revising their laws regarding sexual assault. Despite all this, what she truly wanted from this case, she had not received.
"My pain was never more valuable than his potential."
In her victim impact statement, Chanel wrote, "he didn't get it." She did not want to condemn him to death or take revenge, she wanted him to be remorseful and take accountability. Brock had not delivered upon that. The judge presiding over this case received a massive backlash after the sentencing that was considered 'lenient and biased'.
Throughout the book, Chanel was very forthcoming about how she was victimised repeatedly, called slurs and harassed continually. Brock's DA was incessant with his leading questions that left her perturbed because everything boiled down to one thing in the end: she was a drunk college graduate at a frat party, and he was a young Stanford freshman athlete.
Brock's father said that it was not right to ruin Brock's life (by the sentencing) because of 20 minutes of a mistake. This shows that he did not see the implications of what his son did. This shows how (Chanel's) trauma, both internal and mental, was not taken as serious or genuine. This suffering seems universal,despite the emergence of recent mental health concerns, we are yet to see concrete change in ensuring better care to those who require it. Additionally, she does not fail to mention that the father's apologist behaviour echoes the judgements of the masses, and that is where we fail to be human when we commiserate with the predator and toss aside the prey.
Chanel is unapologetic with her words and thoughts, and I commend her for that. She is a brilliant writer and in this book she describes everything with vivid imagery, so much so that I felt as though I suffered right beside her when justice was not delivered, cried with her when she could find a semblance of peace within her and smiled with her when the world came to see that she was a warrior. Her story is not for the faint-hearted. It is triggering and emotional, and I implore you to read it. Because Chanel Miller turned her traumatising past into one where one could be hopeful for a better tomorrow. In the end, she prevailed.