Chanel Miller addresses Saint Mary’s during Raise Your Voice Symposium // The Observer

Saint Mary’s College hosted sexual assault survivor and author Chanel Miller of the best-selling memoir “Know My Name,” on Monday evening.

Miller was long known only as “Emily Doe” in the Brock Turner assault case. Her victim impact statement was published by BuzzFeed in 2016 and went viral. She relinquished her anonymity in September 2019 with the publication of her memoir from her.

The discussion with Miller was a part of Saint Mary’s week-long “Raise Your Voice: A Sexual Violence Symposium.” The discussion was moderated by senior Sophia Sanchez, Office for Student Involvement and Advocacy (OSIA) director Liz Coulston Baumann and gender and women’s studies professor Jamie Wagman, after an introduction by Saint Mary’s President Katie Conboy.

Miller’s victim impact statement was written partly in response to the sentencing of Turner, a Stanford University swimmer at the time of the incident. Despite being unanimously found guilty of three felonies, including rape, the presiding judge, Aaron Persky, sentenced Turner to six months in county jail, of which he served three.

Chanel Miller, author of “Know My Name: A Memoir,” speaks to Liz Coulston Baumann (right) on the writing process and healing after sexual assault during Saint Mary’s “Raise Your Voice: A Sexual Violence Symposium.”

In the statement, Miller wrote about the harm of giving Turner a short sentence.

“The probation officer’s recommendation of a year or less in county jail is a soft time-out, a mockery of the seriousness of his assaults, and of the consequences of the pain I have been forced to endure,” she wrote.

In addition, Miller emphasized in the statement the trauma of her assault will always be a part of her.

“What he did to me doesn’t expire, doesn’t just go away after a set number of years,” Miller said in the statement. “It stays with me, it’s part of my identity.”

Through her memoir, Miller said she set out to take control of the narratives surrounding her assault.

“You can read the facts on Wikipedia. You can get the transcripts online,” she said. “But I was the one who held the story that’s true to me … And that’s what I wanted to get on the page and seal.”

Miller explained the rarity of her situation in actually getting her assault case to court.

“It was actually so disturbing how much I was told that it was rare to have these cases go through,” she said.

The fact that she made up a “sliver of a percentage” motivated her to write her memoir.

“Luck isn’t the right word, but I did feel that there was value to being there,” she said. “It was just so rare to even be given the opportunity to move forward.”

Miller emphasized, though, that her healing and writing process were always “imperfect.” She recounted her struggles with her wanting to appear composed and “good” in court, despite inner emotional turmoil.

“In the book, all I wanted to show is that I am a mess, but that’s okay,” she said. “Yo quiero [the memoir] to show that there’s a difference between being human and making mistakes and committing a crime.”

Miller majored in English for her undergraduate degree at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Writing has always been a solace for Miller, and she described how writing the memoir was an essential part of her healing for her.

“[Writing] is my way of deepening the relationship with myself and training myself to hear what I have to say,” she said. Miller recommended writing to all survivors as a “practice in listening to yourself.”

However, Miller advised that survivors and activists follow their own timeline when speaking up on an issue. She recalled letting several interview opportunities pass by and waiting to publish the book until after the peak of the Me Too movement.

All that mattered for her, she said, was keeping a “little antenna up” and asking herself when she was ready to publish.

“I would encourage [activists] to also take that time to let things marinate and listen for when you’re ready to speak because when you do, it’ll be ready,” she said.

Beyond this personal reflection, Miller insisted that other people were fundamental to her healing since the assault.

“It was so important for me to realize that the people who love you want to be inside the pain with you,” she said. She described relying on her parents, sister, therapist and boyfriend throughout the trial and fighting on their behalf of her.

Miller said her family played a critical role in helping her navigate the tension between telling her story as a sexual violence survivor while not allowing it to define her.

“My parents never saw me as just the victim,” she said. “I was always this fully embodied, multifaceted person [in their eyes].”

“[Sexual assault] is a communal problem,” Miller said. “Just because it happened to your individual body, and your body was a vessel for the violence doesn’t mean you’re meant to take care of it on your own.”

Tags: Chanel Miller, Know My Name, Liz Coulston Baumann, Raise Your Voice: A Sexual Violence Symposium, saint mary’s, sexual assault, Sexual Assault Awareness Month

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