Why we should know Chanel Miller’s name

Former "Stanford victim" advocates for empathetic sexual violence response

This is a screenshot from the animated promotional video for Miller's memoir.
Credit: 
Screenshot from YouTube
This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Journal uses “survivor” to refer to those who have experienced sexual assault. We acknowledge this term is not universal.
 
In 2016, BuzzFeed published the victim impact statement of a sexual violence survivor known then as either the “Stanford victim” or “Emily Doe.” The statement, which recounts the night “Doe” was assaulted behind a dumpster by Brock Turner while unconscious, and the grueling trial that followed, immediately went viral.
 
It was viewed more than 18 million times on BuzzFeed alone, before being read out loud on CNN and in the United States Congress, and being reprinted by other major news outlets.
 
In September of this year, three years after her statement was released, “Doe” revealed her identity. Her name is Chanel Miller, and she’s a San Francisco-based writer and artist.
 
Miller identified herself in Know My Name, her memoir about the assault and its aftermath. Now, as the woman who’s been credited by some activists with helping to ignite the #MeToo movement, she’s expanding the conversation about campus rape and empathetic sexual violence response.
 
Miller’s trial is globally infamous for the leniency the court gave the privileged perpetrator. The criminal case, People v. Turner, convicted Brock Turner of three counts of felony sexual assault: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated women, sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object, and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object.
 
Turner, a then-prestigious student athlete at Stanford University, was caught sexually assaulting Miller by two Swedish male students. When they came onto the scene, the two men confronted Turner, chased after him, and held him down until police arrived.
 
Turner’s convictions carried a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison. He was sentenced to only six months in Santa Clara County. He served three.
 
The brief sentence sparked vast public outrage, shining a light on rape culture, dangerous white male and class privilege, and the US criminal justice system’s failure to support vulnerable parties. The statement Miller later published with BuzzFeed is the same one she read to Turner, the judge, and jury at the sentence hearing. The same words that impacted millions following its release failed to impact the initial ruling.
 
Since identifying herself, Miller has come forward about why she initially chose to stay anonymous.
 
“I felt that if anyone ever found out that that was me, that it would be absolutely humiliating,” she told Bill Whitaker in her September interview with 60 Minutes. “I felt dirty and embarrassed. My dream is to write children’s books. I felt no parent is going to want me as a role model if I’m just the discarded, drunk, half-naked body behind a dumpster. Nobody wants to be that.” 
 
In the animated promotional video for her memoir, Miller shares a similar sentiment, explaining that “Nobody wants to be defined by the worst thing that’s happened to them.”
 
“I feared those words would follow me forever,” she says. “So I did not speak.” 
 

Just as Miller is now receiving worldwide coverage for her decision to share her story, Stanford is under fire for refusing to do the same. The University is being accused of silencing Miller following their choice not to include a quote from her victim statement in the garden meant to acknowledge Turner’s crime and the plight of other sexual violence survivors.  
 
Following the trial, Miller came to an agreement with the University: the site where she was assaulted would be transformed into a garden, and would feature a plaque with the words of Miller’s choice from her statement. Although two years ago, Stanford followed through on their promise to build the garden, they have twice rejected the quotes Miller has chosen for the plaque. 
 
Though the University has argued the language she chose could be triggering for victims of sexual assault, according to Miller, the rejection seemed to come from their belief that the words directly targeted Turner. 
 
Miller has since removed herself from the project, but students at Stanford have continued her fight to preserve the space’s story. The Dear Visitor team, made up of Stanford students and grads, is using augmented reality technology to project a virtual plaque onto the garden with Miller’s chosen words: "You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today."
 
Stanford community members have also led a petition to include Miller’s memoir in Stanford’s university-wide reading program for incoming students.
 
On Oct. 8, Stanford Professor David Palumbo-Liu published an op-ed in Teen Vogue, calling on the University to include Miller’s words at the site of the assault.
 
“The statement has been read (at last count) by millions worldwide. It has been read into the Congressional record. It has been recited on television,” he writes. “There is nothing new to be exposed. Still Stanford refused to install Miller's words.”
 
When Miller’s statement was published in 2016, she revealed to millions the barriers faced by survivors seeking legal justice. Now, her memoir and Stanford’s refusal to amplify her voice bring light to the continued disregard one faces in the aftermath of assault.
 
Everyone should know Chanel Miller’s name, her story, and the injustices she’s faced despite outcry around the world. But they should also keep in mind the millions of nameless survivors who face—and will continue to face—being silenced and disempowered, if things don’t change.
 

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