Her name is Chanel Miller. She was sexually assaulted while attending a party at Stanford University in 2015. Brock Turner, a 19 year-old student, was convicted of sexually assaulting Chanel behind a dumpster while she was unconscious. How did she get behind the dumpster? We will never know. As many people her age do, Chanel drank too much that night and she has no memory of what happened. If it wasn’t for two male graduate students who happened to be walking by the dumpster, Turner might have gotten away with his crime. Brock tried to run away from the scene, but the graduate students tackled and held him until the police arrived.
Turner was ultimately convicted of three crimes:
-sexual penetration with a foreign object of an intoxicated person
-sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person
-intent to commit rape
After the juries conviction, it was up to Judge Aaron Persky to sentence Turner for these crimes. He was eligible for up to 14 years in prision. However, the judge sentenced Turner to only 6 months in the county jail (he actually served only 3 months) because he didn’t want Turner to go to prison (which is harder core than a county jail) because prison would have a “severe impact” on Turner. Of Judge Persky, Chanel said, “The Judge had given Brock something that would never be extended to me: empathy.”
At the sentencing hearing, Chanel read a statement aloud which was published by Buzzfeed the following day. With a national media platform, Chanel was able to tell her story in such an eloquent and powerful way, that outraged California voters eventually removed Judge Persky from office. Would a female judge have made a different decision? Would a female judge have had greater empathy for the victim’s experience? Remarkably, Judge Persky seemed to understand and relate more to Turner’s suffering if he went to prison (“severe impact”) as compared to Chanel’s harrowing experience as the victim. We can’t know if a different decision would have been made by a female judge, but this case certainly brings home the importance of having more women in positions of power.
Know My Name builds on the statement Chanel read at the sentencing hearing. The book is many things, but for one, it is an indictment of the legal system. All too often, the focus during rape and sexual assault trials is on the behavior of the victim – Was she drunk? How much did she drink? What did she drink? What was she wearing? Did she want to have sex? This focus reminds women of the negative consequences of calling the police and pressing charges at a point in time when women just need empathy, privacy, understanding, and support. This appalling state of American law has been the subject of many songs, poems, and books, including Keith Urban’s song, Female, which includes the line:
When somebody laughs and implies that she asked for it
Just ‘cause she was wearing a skirt
Oh is that how it works
No, that’s not how it works. Know My Name should be required reading for all 16 year olds. If we all have a greater understanding of the victim’s experience, we can provide more support – whether we are friends or family of victims, police officers or hospital workers who are on the front lines, members of the jury or judges making decisions about these cases, or the media which influences how we all think about rape and sexual assault.
Know My Name is a heartfelt account of Chanel’s sexual assault as told from the victim’s point of view. It will leave you feeling sad and heart-broken at times, but also thankful and hopeful because there are people who do understand. These are some of the quotes from the book that have really stuck with me and made me think:
–I didn’t know that if a woman was drunk when the violence occurred, she wouldn’t be taken seriously. I didn’t know that if he was drunk when the violence occurred, people would offer him sympathy.
–They seemed angry that I’d made myself vulnerable, more than the fact that he had acted on my vulnerability.
-I didn’t know that being a victim was synonymous with not being believed.
Amazingly, Chanel is hopeful and positive about the world. She is retelling her story to help others. She says that “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 can be.” I highly recommend this book. I listened to the audio version read by Chanel and it was excellent – I love it when the author reads the book. You can also read the statement that Chanel wrote and read aloud at the sentencing hearing at this link: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra
What do you think about Chanel Miller’s story? Could you have been as courageous and honest as she was in the public telling of her own sexual assault?
In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, I am reading books by women and about women. What are you doing to celebrate?
What other books have you read that really made you think about people who are different from you?