You may not know her name yet, but you sure won’t forget it after reading her story.
For the last five years, Chanel Miller was better known as “Emily Doe”, or even more objectively, as “Brock Turner’s victim”. I say objectively because she was no longer talked about as an individual human. She was associated only with her perpetrator, and often as something that belongs to him (“Brock Turner’s victim”). She was not her own person with her own likes and dislikes, her own childhood memories, her own identity; she became known by only her abuser, and was defined by her trauma (only ever “the victim”).
This memoir felt different than others I’ve read. Perhaps it’s my closeness to this subject matter that makes me feel that way, but something about Chanel’s connectable writing voice and the humanity with which she imbues into a story that previously was not her own pulls at my heartstrings.
Not only does she take back her own story and identity, but she (gently) challenges the way we identify high-profile survivors in the media. She will no longer ever be “Brock Turner’s victim” in my mind; she’s proven how much more she is than that one incident. But why is any survivor ever connected to their perpetrator like a piece of property? Like the rest of their identity is no longer important? It’s absolutely important, and connecting back to who Chanel is likely saved her life.
So I challenge you all now: the next time you are referring to someone who has experienced sexualized violence, think about the way you’re referring to them. Are you calling them “so-and-so’s victim”, thereby continually giving the perpetrator ownership over them? Or are you calling them another beautiful survivor of so-and-so’s despicable actions? As allies (or those of us on the outside reading the news, memoirs, and stories), the way we use our language to talk about survivors is hugely important in a social context. By framing the survivor as the subject rather than the object of the story, we put the focus and importance on them rather than the perpetrator. When everything has been taken away from a survivor, the least we can do is know their names.
You can buy Chanel Miller’s book “Know My Name” at your local bookstore or borrow it from your nearest library.