Know My Name
by Chanel Miller
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Length: 368 Pages
Release date: September 24, 2019
The riveting, powerful memoir of the woman whose statement to Brock Turner gave voice to millions of survivors
She was known to the world as Emily Doe when she stunned millions with a letter. Brock Turner had been sentenced to just six months in county jail after he was found sexually assaulting her on Stanford’s campus. Her victim impact statement was posted on BuzzFeed, where it instantly went viral–viewed by eleven million people within four days, it was translated globally and read on the floor of Congress; it inspired changes in California law and the recall of the judge in the case. Thousands wrote to say that she had given them the courage to share their own experiences of assault for the first time.
Now she reclaims her identity to tell her story of trauma, transcendence, and the power of words. It was the perfect case, in many ways–there were eyewitnesses, Turner ran away, physical evidence was immediately secured. But her struggles with isolation and shame during the aftermath and the trial reveal the oppression victims face in even the best-case scenarios. Her story illuminates a culture biased to protect perpetrators, indicts a criminal justice system designed to fail the most vulnerable, and, ultimately, shines with the courage required to move through suffering and live a full and beautiful life.
Know My Name will forever transform the way we think about sexual assault, challenging our beliefs about what is acceptable and speaking truth to the tumultuous reality of healing. It also introduces readers to an extraordinary writer, one whose words have already changed our world. Entwining pain, resilience, and humor, this memoir will stand as a modern classic.
“I survived because I remained soft, because I listened, because I wrote. Because I huddled close to my truth, protected it like a tiny flame in a terrible storm. Hold up your head when the tears come, when you are mocked, insulted, questioned, threatened, when they tell you you are nothing, when your body is reduced to openings. The journey will be longer than you imagined, trauma will find you again and again. Do not become the ones who hurt you. Stay tender with your power. Never fight to injure, fight to uplift. Fight because you know that in this life, you deserve safety, joy, and freedom. Fight because it is your life. Not anyone else’s. I did it, I am here. Looking back, all the ones who doubted or hurt or nearly conquered me faded away, and I am the only one standing. So now, the time has come. I dust myself off, and go on.”
Let me start this review with a big fat (relatively obvious) trigger warning for sexual assault. Miller is not able to remember the assault itself, so you will not find graphic descriptions of it in this book, but the discussion of the aftermath when she awoke in the hospital can be disturbing. There is also a good deal of discussion of victim blaming, including quoted examples. So while I do absolutely recommend this book, it comes with the disclaimer that it will try your emotional fortitude.
Miller’s writing is eloquent and emotionally evocative. She remained anonymous for the duration of Brock Turner’s trial, and while this was for her protection, it had the effect of dehumanizing her to a certain portion of the public, from garden variety misogynists to women who felt the need to emotionally distance themselves from Miller in order to feel safe. (I.e., “If it happened to her, there must be something wrong with her. That would never happen to me.”) Miller’s victim impact statement (previously published anonymously online and included in full at the end of Know My Name) and this book have the effect of returning her voice and agency to her in a way that’s really powerful.
While the sexual assault and trail which resulted from it are the focus of this book, it also touches on current events and how Miller’s experience effected her perception. From the infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” Trump tape to the #metoo movement, to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about Brett Kavanaugh, Miller’s experience as a sexual assault victim could turn the nightly news into a huge psychological trigger. These ventures from the personal into the political never felt forced; they were in impactful part of her experience and the often blasé public reaction to sexual assault allegations is something that bears thinking about until things change. What do we tell victims when “grab ’em by the pussy” is dismissed as “locker room talk?” What do we tell young girls?
“Cosby, 60. Weinstein, 87. Nassar, 169. The news used phrases like avalanche of accusations, tsunami of stories, sea change. The metaphors were correct in that they were catastrophic, devastating. But it was wrong to compare them to natural disasters, for they were not natural at all, solely man-made. Call it a tsunami, but do not lose sight of the fact that each life is a single drop, how many drops it took to make a single wave. The loss is incomprehensible, staggering, maddening—we should have caught it when it was no more than a drip. Instead society is flooded with survivors coming forward, dozens for every man, just so that one day, in his old age, he might feel a taste of what it was like for them all along.”
This book moved me to tears multiple times. Miller does the narration for the audio book, and if you listen to audio books at all, I highly recommend opting for that format for this title.
For anyone who may need it, here is a list of resources for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.