“Know My Name” by Chanel Miller - “Jane Doe” from Stanford Rape Case
Updated: Mar 9, 2020
Ever since she was known to the world as “Jane Doe,” I have followed Chanel Miller’s story. When she first appeared in the news in January 2015, all we knew about her was that she was unconscious while Stanford athlete Brock Turner sexually assaulted her by a dumpster. Four years later in 2019, Chanel revealed her identity and published her story: “Know My Name,” a beautifully constructed memoir – one of the best I have read on sexual assault.
During People of the State of California v. Brock Allen Turner, the case in which Turner was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault, Chanel addressed her perpetrator anonymously with a powerful victim impact statement, starting with: “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me and that’s why we’re here today.”
Eight months after graduation, the course of Chanel’s life changed, losing all sense of normalcy in a matter of seconds. Unlike other cases of sexual assault, there were two male graduate students who witnessed this assault and were deeply shaken by it. When they confronted Turner about what he was doing to an unconscious girl, Turner fled the scene. “It should’ve been enough to say I did not want a stranger touching my body,” Chanel says in her book, and yet, she was questioned countless times in the courtroom about her role in the assault. She was drilled on what she ate, what she drank, and what she wore that night – on her every action leading up to the assault as if she were responsible for Turner’s actions.
"Why aren't my boundaries inherent?" she asks, rightfully. "Why should I carry the shame for the things that were done to my body?"
Throughout her book, she captures what it feels like to be victimized, not only by Brock Turner, but by the court system. She takes us through the different stages of her story without masking her pain, but without drowning in it either. Her writing is as courageous as she is, as real and as relatable. “Assault buries the self. We lose sight of how and when we are allowed to occupy space. We are made to doubt our abilities, disparaged when we speak.” Chanel points out how Turner’s defense attorney attempted to integrate Turner in the public eye, while simultaneously isolating her. While Turner was painted as a champion swimmer and a star student, Chanel was depicted as simply intoxicated and unconscious. “What dignity is there in being discarded half naked?” Chanel writes. Still, she refuses to be the stereotype defined by the media, the court or Turner himself. She refuses to be labeled as a victim and chooses not to be powerless in the outcome.
“If I needed help, I would have to turn inward. Everything I need to get through this, I already have. Everything I need to know, I already know. Everything I need to be, I already am,” she decides.
Turner was let off easily by the judge, causing an outcry. He never apologized to Chanel for the assault – nor did he hold himself accountable for his actions. Rather, he gave a speech blaming the college drinking culture. What is extraordinary is that Chanel’s book doesn’t carry any air of bitterness –instead it creates a sense of freedom like opening a window on a summer day, letting in a gentle breeze. “Hate is a heavy thing to carry,” she says. “I need to clear space inside myself where hard feelings can be put to rest,” and so, her purpose in writing “Know My Name” wasn’t to reprimand Turner; it was to expose larger issues. “We fight to say, ‘you can’t.’ We fight for accountability. We fight because we pray we’ll be the last ones to feel this kind of pain.”
I have read several books on sexual assault, and while most leave readers with a heavy heart, Chanel’s is remarkably uplifting. By sharing her story, Chanel offers her support to other survivors of sexual assault and to anyone who needs it. She holds out her hand, reaching out and touching thousands of hearts: “On nights when you feel alone, I am with you.”
"After an assault, the world tells you to put your guard up, fight back, be careful,” Chanel writes. “The world does not remind you to unclench your fists, to go on a stroll, that you do not have to spend all your time figuring out how to survive. Nobody says, adopt the Pomeranian. I had planned to surround myself with higher gates and sharper teeth but maybe that wasn't what I needed. Maybe it was possible to build that security within myself.”
In the end, her words and her warmth comfort us. By telling her own story and owning it, she reminds us to feel safe in our own skin, to never be afraid to speak our truth. That there is no shame in our vulnerability, just strength.