We all, unfortunately, remember Brock Turner and the infamous 2016 case in which he sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. The victim was known only as “Emily Doe” until recently, when she revealed her identity. Previously, Chanel Miller’s words were only known through her impact statement, published by BuzzFeed and read aloud by journalist Ashleigh Banfield in an emotional CNN segment. She has now made her voice heard in a memoir titled “Know My Name” and on an episode of “60 Minutes” that aired on Sept. 22.
Despite Miller maintaining anonymity, she was able to win her case; Turner was convicted of three counts of sexual assault. The victory rang hollow, however, when he was sentenced to only six months in jail.
Many women who come forward about the assaults they have suffered do not get the chance to keep their identities quiet. As such, they see their reputation and character slashed in the media. They even become the butt of a joke. A recent example that comes to mind is Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who testified to the U.S. Senate that Supreme Court Justice and then-nominee Brett Kavanaugh molested and tried to rape her when they were teenagers.
Many news outlets tried desperately to discredit her, often bringing up her Democratic party affiliation and the small donations she has made to political causes. Even now, over a year later, I saw that the “People Also Ask” suggestions on Bing listed the third-related question as “How old does Christine Blasey Ford look to you?” Her appearance, the last thing anyone should care about, is one of the most-searched questions about her assault. Every part of a survivor’s public image is torn apart.
Back in 2015, when Miller was first dealing with the trauma she suffered, she likely had the choice to put her name out to the public. Her choice not to reflects society’s harassment of women who have already been victimized. She was brave enough to see her trial through, even to the incredibly bitter end — a feat not easily accomplished when only 8 percent of the rape cases reported to the police get taken to trial.
And courtrooms are not forgiving; cross-examinations can be traumatizing on their own. Simon McCarthy-Jones, associate professor of clinical psychology and neuropsychology at Trinity College Dublin, writes that, “Detailed questioning can recreate the powerlessness and terror of the original assault. This is referred to as secondary victimization or the second rape. It can have serious consequences for survivors’ mental health and well-being.” Miller was even able to read her victim statement in the courtroom after all this, still refusing to have her voice drowned out.
Her bravery is not lessened by her anonymity. Choosing to protect herself in whatever way she could is still brave. She said, “In newspapers, my name was ‘unconscious, intoxicated woman.’” She was subjected to this dehumanization as a side effect of her anonymity. Choosing to hide her identity in remaining anonymous was brave, even though the media took this opportunity to treat her as an object, in much the same way Turner did.
It is possible to seek justice without lambasting a victim. Even though it was suggested during the trial that her drunkenness brought on her assault, even though the defense team tried every strategy to undermine her credibility, Turner was still convicted. His punishment was hardly a slap on the wrist, but that’s a topic for another column. Miller had the strength to go through with the entirety of the trial, even when it was demeaning.
It seems like this should hardly be something I need to talk about — we don’t tell victims of robbery that it was their fault for owning nice things, and we shouldn’t tell victims of sexual assault that it was their fault for being drunk, or wearing something revealing, or being attractive, or any of the thousand things we say to dismiss women’s claims.
Miller said it best herself: “Rape is not a punishment for getting drunk … You deserve a hangover, a really bad hangover, but you don’t deserve to have somebody insert their body parts inside of you.” Not only must we believe women, but we must also refuse to take part in their discrediting.
Jessica Gutowitz is a senior majoring in English.