NPR calls Know My Name, published September 23, a “devastating, immersive memoir” of a sexual assault and its aftermath—about a crime that took place on the campus of Stanford University after a fraternity party in 2015.
Chanel Miller, after accompanying her sister to the party, was sexually assaulted behind a dumpster by Brock Turner, a member of the Stanford swim team. Two Swedish grad students came on the scene and accosted the assailant. In a trial that received national attention, Turner was convicted of three charges of felony sexual assault and faced up to 14 years in prison. He served only three months of a six-month sentence in a county jail.
At Turner’s trial, Miller was known only as Emily Doe, although her eloquent “victim impact statement” to the court went viral—it was a pre-#MeToo movement act that dramatically highlighted the horror of sexual assault.
Miller says that #MeToo helped her decide to end her anonymity. “Before, I wanted the assault to not be a part of my life, and that was the goal,” she told the New York Times. “Now it’s accepting that it will always be a part of my life, and I just figure out where it lives inside my life.”
Miller says she has no problem with the word “victim,” but in writing about her full life in Know My Name she refuses to let it define her. As NPR’s review of her book notes, “If you want to know her name, you also need to know that her Chinese grandfather pronounces it like xiao niao — ‘little bird.’ That she does stand-up comedy, that she likes to cook, that she has a little sister and that on the night she was attacked, her dad made her quinoa and she made fun of the way he pronounced it. In other words, that she is a full person, a loved person, a named person.”
Miller’s bravery is all the more striking put up against the powerful institutions she confronted that minimize the trauma of rape, whether they be a legal system that makes it almost impossible for victims to get justice, or a university that strives to sweep sexual assault under the rug.
In its review, NPR says that “Stanford emerges as a sharp example of institutional cowardice: its failure to meaningfully follow up after it became clear she was not a student, and an offer of money for therapy on the condition that she not sue the school.”
Stanford did create a garden near the place where Miller was attacked, but negotiations about a possible plaque quoting lines from her victim impact statement went nowhere.
“I finally understood I was visible not as a person, but a legal threat, a grave liability,” Miller writes.
“I encourage you to sit in that garden, but when you do, close your eyes and I’ll tell you about the real garden, the sacred place. Ninety feet away from where you sit is a spot, where Brock’s knees hit the dirt, where the Swedes tackled him to the ground, yelling, What the f–k are you doing? Do you think this is okay? Put their words on a plaque. Mark that spot, because in my mind I’ve erected a monument. The place to be remembered is not where I was assaulted, but where he fell, where I was saved, where two men declared stop, no more, not here, not now, not ever.”