Chanel Miller and the power of a victim’s voice

It was 2016 when former Stanford University student, Brock Turner, was sentenced to only 6 months in county jail (with probation) for sexually assaulting an intoxicated and unconscious 22-year old woman behind a dumpster outside of a fraternity party.

After two passing students stopped Turner in the act and called 911, the police took the victim to the hospital where the sexual assault response team determined that she had experienced significant physical and penetrating trauma.

The jury found Turner guilty of three charges: sexually assaulting an intoxicated victim, sexually assaulting an unconscious victim, and attempted rape.

Prosecutors sought a six-year sentence. He got six months. And only served three.

The case gained notoriety for the system’s lenient treatment of the case and set an example of white male privilege. In 2016, an Asian American college freshman, Kyle Vo, faced a very similar charge to Turner’s, and he was given 6 years in prison. A black college freshman, Cory Batey, was also prosecuted for a similar charge, received a minimum sentence of 15-25 years.

For years, Chanel Miller protected herself behind an alias, Emily Doe. She kept from the world her name, her face, but not her story. She sent shockwaves through the internet when Buzzfeed published her full victim statement, which she read to Turner in court. It sparked major uproar about the court’s minimisation of Miller’s brutal experience by giving Turner such a light sentence, which the county judge justified because of Turner’s positive character references and lack of criminal record. He said that prison would have a “severe impact on him.”

The uproar was exacerbated by the rhetoric used by Turner’s own father who defended his son by claiming that a prison sentence was “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” 

20 minutes of action? Muggings are committed in less than 20 minutes. Fights last less time than 20 minutes. So, is 20 minutes for the brutal, unwarranted sexual violence against an unconscious woman not long enough? Either that was a tone-deaf, stupid, misogynistic justification of a fucked-up decision, or I just must be OTT.

The victim hid behind a name to protect herself from the embarrassment and shame she felt through no fault of her own.

Until now.

In September 2019, Emily Doe came forward and revealed her identity in a new reading of her impact statement with CBS.

“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Her name is Chanel Miller, and she wants you to know her name.

On September 4th 2019, the New York Times revealed the cover of Miller’s new book, Know My Name, in which she speaks her truth and comes to terms with the ordeal that she faced.

In the video with CBS, she states, “In newspapers, my name was ‘unconscious intoxicated woman’. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am.”

With the past few years ushering a new era for survivors of sexual misconduct, with the revelation of allegations against Harvey Weinstein and the introduction of the #MeToo movement, Miller’s memoir will be a pioneering key in the effort to shift the cultural climate towards more support for millions of women who have endured horrific attacks on their bodies.

It should seem unbelievable that in today’s day and age, we are still having to explain what consent entails and that regardless of status, wealth and power, nobody has the right to abuse or have control over another person’s body.

But it’s important that we continue to have these conversations to educate ourselves and stop such awful, nauseating, fucked-up acts from occurring again. 

We expect our 20s to be an exciting time for us; we meet new people, form different relationships and try things that we never would have before. And when Miller went to that fraternity party that night, those are the experiences she was hoping to have. Not the one that she did.

If you have been a victim of sexual assault, please do not suffer in silence. Here are just some of the many charities you can contact to seek professional advice:

• https://www.safeline.org.uk/

• https://www.nightline.ac.uk/want-to-talk/

• https://rapecrisis.org.uk/

Image credit: Mariah Tiffany

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