What survivor Chanel Miller’s memoir Know My Name means to me

By DIVA PAREKH | October 3, 2019

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COURTESY OF RUDY MALCOM


Parekh ran out of sticky notes while marking her favorite parts of Chanel Miller’s book.

So I’ve been reading this book lately. It’s called Know My Name, and it’s written by Chanel Miller. Some of you might know who she is, might recognize her name from when she revealed it on Sept. 4. But most of you know who Brock Turner is. Chanel Miller is Emily Doe — she’s “the victim,” she’s the “unconscious woman” that Brock Turner sexually assaulted. And she wrote a book. And I haven’t been able to put it down.

The day Know My Name was released, I picked it up from the mailroom and immediately started reading it. A few hours later, I called my parents like I sometimes do before I go to sleep. (It’s almost a 10-hour time difference, so it’s a good time to catch them when they’re actually awake.) 

“So I read a book for a few hours tonight. Like, not for school, just because I wanted to read it,” I told my parents. 

But I don’t think I really meant to tell them. It just kind of slipped out because I was still thinking about the book.

They asked which one. Instantly, I went through all sorts of lies in my mind. I scanned my bookshelf trying to read every single title on it and pick one out to throw at my parents that they wouldn’t ask too many questions about. The Art of Fielding? It’s about baseball — they don’t know anything about baseball, they won’t ask about that. Wait, no, my dad came to a couple of games before graduation, he’ll be curious. What else? What else? Physical Cosmology? No, damn it, that’s a textbook. 

“So, well, do you remember the Stanford rape case?” Silence on the other line for a few seconds.  

Softly, my mom replied, “Yeah, I think so.” 

“Well she, uh, she wrote a book and I bought it,” I said.

“You’re reading that?” my mom asked.

“Yeah.”

And that was the end of that conversation. Sexual assault isn’t something we really talk about in my family. It’s always too painful. I know my parents blame themselves for both the times it happened to me. In anger this one time, I blamed them too. I didn’t mean it. I was just angry. But saying something like that isn’t something you can take back. 

Literature that relates to sexual assault is somehow an even more sensitive topic. When I was 17 and first coming out of the denial that I’d shrouded myself in for almost a decade, when I finally started figuring out what had happened to me when I was eight and 13, I blamed the books I was reading in English class.

My mom would ask me why I was crying, why I wasn’t sleeping, why I was having nightmares. And I’d say it was because that book was hard to read. “It’s just that someone rapes the main character. Nothing else. I have to read it for class though. I’ll be fine. You know how I get absorbed in books I read.”

But it wasn’t really the books. It was the hurricane swirling around in my brain, trying to figure out what to do with this information I had all along but was somehow only understanding for the first time.

Reading Know My Name, though, I feel like the hurricane has quieted down to the downpour of a monsoon. It’s still loud, still there wherever I look, but I can go outside now. I can stand in the rain and not get washed away by it.

What happened to Chanel Miller wasn’t at all similar to what happened to me. But somehow, I could relate. I understood every little part of her that she had painstakingly laid out in these pages for the world to see. 

When I heard about the book, I was worried. I knew I’d want to read it. I knew I’d make myself read it because I knew it would be so important. But I thought I’d struggle through it. I thought I’d have to take breaks, give myself some time, let myself have the nightmares again.

But none of that happened. Reading her book was like hearing the voice inside my head that I’d been shushing all these years finally get to speak. 

When she talked about the atmosphere in the room when she was about to tell her parents what had happened, I felt it. I felt the urge to protect her parents from it just as much as I wanted to protect mine. I was so scared of how much I would hurt them that I made my therapist tell them. I wasn’t even in the room at first. And when I finally did come in, my dad tried to hug me and I pushed him away. I didn’t even make eye contact. 

But reading Chanel Miller’s words, I can walk back in there, at least in my mind, and I can hug him back. I can look up if only for a second to meet their eyes and show them that eventually I was going to be okay. 

Mom, Dad — if you’re ever ready, someday, please read it. Let her tell you everything I haven’t been able to.

And to you too, whoever you are, reading this article, take an hour out of your day for a week and read her story. She’ll tell you about how she spent hours learning about her own assault from the news, reading every nasty, hurtful comment left by people hiding behind their screens. She’ll tell you how she had to slam her computer shut to try and quiet those voices.

Back in 2016 I remember reading those comments too. I remember that I read every single comment on every article I read about this case. I don’t know why I did it. But eventually, I had to slam my computer shut too.

She’ll tell you what happened in excruciating detail, from the rape kit exam to the pine needles from near the dumpster that were knotted in her hair.

She won’t try to protect you from her truth. But she will flash back all of a sudden to memories of her childhood and of growing up, and she will show you that she is so much more than that one night. 

She’ll take you through the lows and the even-lower-than-lows and the tasting-her-own-tears kind of lows of her story.

She will show you that she isn’t here to lift you up and to hold your hand through her story. But she will make you laugh, too. Somehow, even with every awful detail about how so many people sought to systematically destroy her character to preserve the prospects of one man who saw her body as something he could take without asking — she’ll make you smile.

This isn’t a book review, and I’m sorry if that’s what you were looking for when you opened up this article. I just didn’t feel like I could tell her story when she had already done it so powerfully. And hopefully someday when you go and tell someone else about this book, you won’t have to explain that “it’s a memoir written by Chanel Miller, the woman who Brock Turner assaulted.” You’ll just say that it’s a memoir written by Chanel Miller.

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