Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Know My Name has been on my list for quite a long time. I've been staring at it each time I go to pick out a new book, knowing that I want to read it, knowing that I need to read it, but also knowing that it was going to be a challenging one to get through.

Miller's memoir has received from many leading publications including The New Yorker, The Guardian, ELLE, The Atlantic, and The Sunday Times

It was also a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book, and a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, as well as one of the best book of 2019 in Time, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, NPR, and People, amongst other outlets.

Chanel Miller is also a 2019 Time 100 Next honouree and a 2016 Glamour Woman of the Year honouree under her pseudonym Emily Doe. 

Below is a short synopsis and a review. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

“My old life left me, and a new one began”

Chanel Miller

Courtesy of New York Times

The first chapter focuses on what happened leading up to Miller's sexual assault, and the assault itself, when Chanel was found on the grounds of Stanford University, half-naked, alone and unconscious. 

Chanel talks in detail about what happened immediately after, taking the reader through those moments with her, where she tries to maintain a sense of calmness, detaching herself entirely from her emotions. She had woken up in a hospital, her memories of the previous night erased, the only evidence she had were the words of a deputy telling her “there is reason to believe you have been sexually assaulted.” 

Miller goes through the details of the procedures following her sexual assault, when the professionals came in to take photographs, measurements, running their latex gloved hands over every surface of her body. They kept her calm throughout this difficult process, however “they could not undo what was done, but they could record it, photograph every millimetre of it, seal it into bags, force someone to look.” 

Miller found it easiest to block the event out of her subconscious, like many living with PTSD do. She decided not to tell her parents, and managed to convince her sister that she was fine. 

Things start to change when Chanel, unknowing what she’s getting herself into, agreed to press charges. At the time she didn’t know that saying yes, that being a victim was synonymous with not being believed. 

Courtesy of NPR

When she agreed to press charges, the press got a hold of the information and before she knew it, her story was front and centre of the media. She then had to tell her parents and her boyfriend. The hearing would be soon.

Chanel continued to ignore the mental and physical distress, avoiding the aches and telling herself that nothing was broken. When her mind started to drift to disturbing scenes, she said to herself "Stop, It's Over". 

At this time, Chanel felt the walls of her life being torn down and the whole world closing in around her. Her phone rang around the clock, calls pouring in from her Detective, the Deputy District Attorney, Stanford representatives, and YWCA representatives. 

It was all becoming too much, and she was being hunted. She decided to ditch her name at this point, leaving Chanel Miller behind, and becoming Emily Doe. Suddenly, the pain became Emily's. It was Emily, all of this was Emily

The more Emily Doe retreated, the more the press continued to rip her to shreds. They highlighted the qualities of the perpetrator, Brock Turner, all American high school swimmer, state record-holder, 2012 U.S. Olympic trials, excellent athlete, excellent student, and the list goes on. 

At the same time, Emily was being crushed to fragments online. "There are women out there suffering real abuse and you want to call this assault. Not trying to blame the victim but something is wrong if you drink yourself to unconsciousness… Did he give her a roofie? If not, why would any woman get so drunk?" The comments continued to pour in. 

Again, the blame fell entirely on the woman. Chanel, Emily Doe at this point, says "They seemed angry that I had made myself vulnerable. Being drunk and raped seemed call for condemnation. I know I did not deserve help because this was not a real trauma." 

Courtesy of NPR

Months past, she had not confided in a single friend, and things only continued to become more difficult. The investigators dug up every detail of Chanel's past, including her college years, her drinking and partying habits, and her relationship with her then boyfriend. 

Since Chanel had drank heavily in college and often partied, the commenters took this as an opportunity to ambush her, calling her sloppy, irresponsible, reckless.

All the while, she continued to live two separate lives. Chanel got up in the morning, drove to work where she put a smile on her face, worked her way through emails, and then Emily would take the wheel on the way to the courthouse or wherever she was required to go afterwards. It was hard being one person living two separate lives.

It seems throughout that Chanel took on so much of the burden, the weight of what had happened, becoming the caretaker for others, worrying about her parents and her sister. All she wanted was to protect her family, while trying to hide the damage of the assault, but she felt like a failure. She continued to put on a brave face for those around her while she crumbled. Fostering a growth of anger inside of herself, not yet able to face what had happened to her. 

The assault had in a sense affected every part of her life. By the end of the two-week hearing, her mind had withdrawn, her body withered.

Throughout the entire legal process, Chanel felt she was always trying to keep up, not to mess up, to follow the rules, and to do what she thought was expected of her. She didn't know that victims could ask for more, could be treated better. 

Courtesy of New York Times

When talking about victims, Chanel says "Victims are often, automatically accused of lying. But when a perpetrator is exposed for lying, the stigma doesn't stick. Why is it that we're wary of victims making false accusations, but rarely consider how many men have blatantly lied about, downplayed, or manipulated others to cover their own actions?"

I recommend reading about the remainder of the hearing and trial in the book, the sentencing, and inequality that followed, and the path that Chanel carved out for herself following this, one that led her to write a statement that garnered more than 15 million views on the internet, was translated into French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean. 

The statement was also read by a number of well known US Government members. Chanel received thousands of letters, including one from US Vice President Joe Biden, stating, "I see you."

Miller is an inspiration to millions worldwide who have been sexually assaulted and have been driven into silence. Chanel has spoken for those who have not been able to speak for themselves. She has advocated and used her voice and platform to make an incredible impact.

Courtesy of TIME

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), every 73 seconds, one American is sexually assaulted. 94% of women who are raped experience symptoms of PTSD during the 2 weeks following the rape, 33% contemplate suicide, and 13% attempt suicide. 

If you, or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, RAINN is here to help. The online chat is open 24 hours a day. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.