Image: The cover of the book is a darker teal color with a few lines that look like twigs in gold random directions around the edges. The title of the book is in large, capital, white letters. Underneath, "a memoir" in smaller, thinner, lowercase white letters. Under that is "Chanel Miller" in the same letters as the title.
I recall reading Chanel Miller's victim impact statement (as Emily Doe) when it made the rounds years ago. Without divulging my own history in detail, I will simply say that it meant a great deal to me to read. I remember it affecting everyone I knew who was in a place that offered them the ability to read it at the time. We felt empowered and seen by this woman's words that were both brutally honest and exceedingly gentle. I recall being appalled by the sentencing hearing, or what was available about it in the media. I am a person who believes in prison abolition and am in favor of restorative justice when possible. It was not just the sentence itself that bothered me, but how it was justified and described. It was how the sentencing hearing was basically a congratulatory party for the aggressor. After that, I don't recall hearing much else until I saw Miller being interviewed on the Daily Show. When I realized who she was, I couldn't wait to read her book, Know My Name: A Memoir. I also was afraid to read it. I steer clear of reading, listening to, and watching things that end up being trauma porn or a long detailing of horrors. I am glad I went for it anyways because Miller manages to both be honest and detailed about her experiences without the writing falling into the trauma porn category. I believe this is because she is an excellent story teller that manages to grasp the entire picture ad convey it well to her audience.
If there was ever a single piece of literature that one could hand to someone when they ask, "Why didn't she go to the police? Why didn't she report (the rape/assault/etc?)" it would be this book. It's not because it's the worst story I have read about interactions with police and hospitals after an assault. It's because it is one of the "better" ones, though I put that in quotes because there is never anything good in something like this. Miller's story represents one in which she was treated with respect by most of the people she encountered early on. She met a caring detective, concerned and gentle hospital workers, had a supportive and loving family and partner, a DA who was passionate about her case, and so on. She represents an experience in which everything early on goes as least terribly as it can, and yet her experience remains horrific and traumatizing at a level that no one should ever have to endure. The invasiveness of the police, medical exams, court systems, as well as the absolute unease that comes with knowing something happened when one was completely helpless and unconscious is enough to damage anyone. Miller wasn't given much choice whether or not to report as she woke up in the hospital. But, this terror is often as good as it gets within the system. Meaning, the best is still one of the worst things that can happen to someone. Most of the system when one chooses to report can actually add extensive amounts of trauma. The other side of the coin is that she had to endure what followed in a much more public manner than most people, creating a unique set of awful circumstances.
Miller's writing is superb and engaging. She manages to take us through a very long story that can easily become tedious if told without talent. I do not mean that the traumas themselves are tedious, but they can be difficult to capture with words and some people find court systems boring. I found my self completely drawn in by her words and story. I can't think of another book that captured what it is like to endure something like this and how it affects every aspect of one's life and the world around them. I don't read a lot of survivor stories with this much detail because I feel it is often an exercise in retraumatization on my part. But, Miller manages to capture the harrowing ordeal she went through without mincing words and also without leaving the reader wanting to completely give up on the world at the end.
I am not going to detail anything about the case or her trauma as I want her words and the book to do that. As I said, she conveys it best and does a far better job than I would. She also manages to create the necessary connections between her struggles and that of others, especially other traumas that were going on in current events around the time the book was written. I will say this. Something that struck me over and over was how talented Miller is. She is a writer, a comedian, an illustrator, and many other things. I found myself thinking, how much talent have we lost to trauma and violence? How many victims might later have become writers, artists, doctors, astronauts, performers, scientists, care takers, and so on if the rug were not ripped out from under them by sexual violence? This is not to say that one must be exceptional in order for their story to matter. On the contrary, I think that everyone has something important to offer this world and that sexual violence can place a giant, sometimes immovable, roadblock in the way of discovering what that is. My questions are rhetorical. I know we have lost countless people to these violent acts. I know countless predators have been lifted up and defended as Brock Turner was while those who survived their acts struggle to breathe. It is difficult to know how to exist in a society like that.
Miller does not allow the reader to get stuck with that feeling. She leaves the reader with hope and not in the way many writers on these topics tend to. I often struggle with overly optimistic takes on surviving trauma which often suggest that people come out stronger and better and now everything is over. Miller manages to leave the reader with a realistic set up. Yes, the trauma still affects us. Yes, it still hurts. No, it will not ever disappear. No, nothing was fair. Yes, the system is broken. But, it is not all that there is and it cannot take away all that we are. Miller's words are essential reading for people in every field from gender studies to law to medicine to parenting. They are definitely essential reading for those without sexual trauma who find themselves struggling to understand why someone makes the choices they do. Miller captures all of this and more in this book, all while telling her story honestly and beautifully. I hope to see more from her in the future.
This was also posted to my goodreads.
This was also posted to my goodreads.