As a rape survivor, I approach true stories of sexual assault with a certain trepidation.
When I read Roxanne Gay’s “Hunger,” in which she describes her own adolescent assault, I had to take the book with me to therapy to process the emotions that arose. While watching “Audrie and Daisy,” a documentary that centers largely on the case of Daisy Coleman, who was raped in Missouri at age 14, I was so physically triggered I felt I might vomit. Like many sexual assault survivors, I spent the weeks of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation process in a PTSD nightmare.
Despite these difficult side effects, I continue to find myself drawn to these stories, to need to see my experiences reflected back to me. The beauty of Chanel Miller’s “Know My Name” is that it doesn’t just reflect ― it illuminates.
Miller, known then only as “Emily Doe,” became the center of a high-profile criminal case when she was assaulted outside a Stanford fraternity party in 2015. Her assailant, Brock Turner, became the face of the kind of privilege granted to promising young white men who rape women when he was convicted but sentenced to only six months in jail, of which he served three. When Miller’s victim impact statement was released and went viral online, it effected change ― sparking dialogue; influencing the state of California to set minimum sentencing requirements for sexual assault of someone who was unconscious, intoxicated or otherwise incapable of giving consent; and leading to the recall of the judge who sentenced Turner.
Now, with her memoir, Miller has chosen to reveal her identity literally and figuratively, putting a human face on the issue of sexual assault, forcing you to look at her. Daring you, once you’re seen her as a whole and complex person, to ever again reduce her to the elements of her victimhood.
Miller’s assault story differs from many others in that her case garnered national attention. Not only was she retraumatized by the brutal,...