Powerful Memoir Reveals More than Victim’s Identity
By Cecily Miles ’21
Chanel Miller learned her rapist’s name, Brock Turner, from news headlines. She learned that he was a student at Stanford University, originally from Ohio, a talented swimmer, and an Olympic hopeful. She learned that Brock’s victim was known as “Emily Doe.” According to news articles, Emily Doe was not a swimmer, and not a student on scholarship at an elite university. In fact; Emily’s identity was defined solely by her victimhood.
Miller revealed to the public that she and Emily Doe were one and the same shortly before the release of her recent memoir, Know My Name. Miller is not only a victim but also a graduate from UC Santa Barbara, originally from Palo Alto, a talented writer and an artist. In the face of a criminal justice system that seemed to emphasize her assailant’s accomplishments and his perceived potential, to congratulate him on everything he did right no matter its relevance to his crime, Miller tells readers about herself, expanding beyond the limited persona she was forced to maintain in court.
Brock’s identity seemed only to help him. Witnesses, including high school teachers, swim coaches, parents, and friends attested to his good character in court. The defense attempted to replace Brock the rapist with Brock the good citizen, as if there could only be one or the other. As Miller writes in her book, “Society often fails to wrap its head around the fact that these truths often coexist, they are not mutually exclusive.” Furthermore, Brock’s defense vilified Emily Doe, attributing to Doe only the few aspects of Miller that they felt could be used against her, such as her attire at the party, and her drinking habits, while leaving out anything else about her.
According to the defense’s narrative, Emily Doe had victimized Brock by being his victim: Brock’s career had been derailed, and his bright future dimmed by the assault. When Judge Aaron Persky gave Brock the infamously lenient sentence of six months (the maximum sentence for the crime was 14 years, and Brock was released after three months), he cited that “the adverse collateral consequences on the defendant’s life resulting from the felony conviction . . . [were] severe” (Miller 234).
In response to Brock’s father, who had told the judge that “the verdicts” had “shattered” Brock and his family, Miller writes, “Verdict of What? Guilt. Guilt for What? Assault. Assault committed by whom? Brock” (Miller 232). Miller answers these questions for us, but her writing raises even more questions about the treatment of rape victims, including:
Why did a judge sympathize with a rapist for the effects of his own actions, all the while ignoring the pain such actions had brought upon the victim?
Why did mothers comment on articles about Miller’s assault that stated they hoped their daughters would never get drunk at a party, never make themselves so vulnerable? Why did they not comment instead that they hoped their sons would never see the intoxication of another as an opportunity and never take advantage of another’s vulnerability?
Why was Brock’s character exalted, while Miller’s character was scrutinized so much so that she felt the need to make herself a “good victim,” to be on her absolute best behavior during the trial lest the defense argue that her continuing to drink or party indicated that she was unaffected by the assault?
In her powerful memoir, Miller exposes a system in which victims must prove they are innocent of wrongly accusing their rapists, who are automatically innocent until proven guilty. She exposes a system in which rapists are allowed to utilize the full range of their identity and their personal history to defend themselves, with every act of goodwill somehow compensating for the crime, while victims must remain fixed in the circumstances of their assault.
Photo credit: ELLE