Know My Name is powerful story of sexual assault and survival by a woman whose words had already had a powerful impact before anyone knew her name. Chanel Miller is the woman raped by Brock Turner; the story made headlines across North America, as did the disgustingly short sentence Turner was given and the way media coverage focused on the rapist’s potential and the damage to his future, rather than the harm done to his victim. When the woman he assaulted, known at the time only as “Emily Doe,” released a powerful, searing victim impact statement that struck a chord with readers around the world, she began reclaiming her own power in a situation that so often leaves woman powerless. With the publication of her memoir, Chanel Miller made the difficult decision to make her identity public and tell the whole story, not only in her words but under her own name. She is a brilliant, amazing young writer. It’s horrific that things like this happen; it’s a small blessing for other victims of assault when survivors like Miller are able to articulate so clearly and in such compelling language what harm was done to them.
Know My Name brought up comparisons, for me, to another memoir I read almost 14 years ago and don’t recall all the details of — Alice Sebold’s Lucky. The interesting contrasts, for me, were in the fact that Sebold, as a young college rape victim, was considered “lucky” because she was the rare young woman who fits the profile of the “perfect” rape victim — a virgin assaulted by a stranger while walking across campus, who was able to fight back, had scars to show she had fought, and immediately reported the assault and followed the legal process through to her rapist’s conviction. Chanel Miller, on the other hand, inhabited the messier reality where most sexual assaults take place — she got drunk at a party, passed out, and was raped by Turner, whose assault was interrupted when two passersby saw what was happening and chased him away. Miller woke up in hospital with no memory of the assault, making her unable to testify to the details of what happened and making it possible (though unconvincing) for Turner and his defense team to argue that she consented.
Comparing the stories of these two young women decades apart, it’s disheartening to realize how little has changed; how the process of trying to get justice for a sexual assault is still demeaning and brutalizing for the victim, who has to undergo a second assault as her life is put on display in court to see if she is “good enough” to qualify as a victim. Out of the morass of this dehumanizing process, Chanel Miller speaks with a clear, wise, deeply human voice, reaching out to other survivors. This is an often difficult book to read, but it’s powerful and will linger with me for a long, long time.