Back in 2015, one particular sexual assault case shocked the nation and caused widespread outrage. A former Stanford University student, Brock Turner, was given a lenient six-month jail sentence after being convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in an alley. Now, the survivor of that incident, referred to by court officials as “Emily Doe,” has decided to reveal her identity and share her side of the story. Her name is Chanel Miller.
Chanel Miller is no longer the “victim” in this story. With her memoir Know My Name set to release later this month, Miller is seeking to reclaim her identity and tell the truth about the impacts of sexual assault and a flawed criminal justice system.
While readers should expect to be moved by her memoir, Miller’s words have already had a lasting impact on the way we view sexual assault and rape culture. The 12-page victim impact statement she wrote, then under the name Emily Doe, transcended the courtroom and reached a global audience when it went viral on BuzzFeed back in 2016.
The letter, which often addresses Turner directly, outlines the assault from Miller’s perspective and describes the mental and emotional trauma she endured afterwards. She questions the biases behind Turner’s sentencing, discusses re-learning her own identity, and even encourages Turner to do good and rebuild his life. The letter was crucial in inspiring a California bill that mandates prison time for perpetrators of sexual assault and instilling a hard alcohol ban at Stanford. Her words touched millions, many of whom were also sexual assault survivors.
Judge Aaron Persky of the Santa Clara County Superior Court claimed Turner’s age, status at an elite university, and lack of criminal history made the six-month sentence with probation appropriate and just. Persky was also concerned about the “severe impact” prison would have on Turner –– a statement widely considered a white male privilege. Days later, over 191,000 people signed a petition to recall Persky. Given this case and a history of bias in cases of sexual assault and violence against women, he was successfully removed from office.
With Know My Name, Miller will continue to demand change not just in the criminal justice system, but within society’s understanding of sexual trauma and treatment of survivors. She also dedicates herself and encourages other women, survivors or not, to use their suffering as a means to strive for a fulfilling, wonderful life.
“And finally, to girls everywhere, I am with you. So never stop fighting, I believe you. I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you. To girls everywhere, I am with you,” she writes.