Chanel Miller: silent no longer

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

The once anonymous Stanford sexual assault survivor wants you to know her name.

By Cesia Lopez, Staff Writer

Photo Courtesy of Mariah Tiffany

Warning: this story discusses rape.

Before the world knew her name, we knew her as “Emily Doe” the anonymous and “unconscious, intoxicated woman” of the 2015 Stanford University sexual assault case. On September 22, her chin held high, the fiercely poised Chanel Miller revealed her identity and unapologetically furthered the conversation of sexual assault into the public eye. 

In an interview with Bill Whitaker on “60 Minutes,” the half-Chinese 27 year old challenged a spectrum of pervasive cultural and systemic issues that were magnified in her case. From a criminal justice system that fails the most vulnerable yet affords easy sympathies to white, privileged young men, to the overall culture that places more responsibility on victims of sexual violence than on perpetrators.

“What was she doing at a frat party? This isn’t really rape. Why was she alone? She’s the predator because she’s older. Why would you ever get that drunk? It was endless,” Miller said, as she recounted the victim-blaming comments that emerged alongside news of her assault. “I didn't know that if a woman was drunk when the violence occurred, she wouldn't be taken seriously. I didn't know that if he was drunk when the violence occurred, people would offer him sympathy.” 

These unproductive comments ring all too familiar to many survivors. Valley College student Jeannie Quirus, commented on the prevalent stigma that undermines and shames victims when they disclose their assault. 

“It happened to me when I was victimized myself, at work,” said Quirus. “People started slut-shaming and spreading rumors about me saying that I was the problem and that it was my fault.”

She contrasted the paradox presented by the same co-workers, stating, “I remember the next day, this girl was like, ‘well that’s just what he does when he goes out’ and I was like, well that’s not okay and that’s why I reported it.” 

When Miller was 22 years old, she attended a party at Stanford with her younger sister who was in town visiting. The grad student’s alcohol tolerance had significantly lowered since her time at UC Santa Barbara, resulting in her blacking out. Even though the party was only 10 minutes away from her home, she was still singled out by Brock Turner. 

Two Swedish grad students witnessed him on top of Miller's unconscious body behind a dumpster, chased him when he fled and pinned him down until the cops arrived. In 2016, Turner was unanimously found guilty on three charges of sexual assault but was only sentenced to six months in a county jail — of which he served half. 

“There are young men, particularly young men of color, serving longer sentences for non-violent crimes, for having a teeny-weeny bit of marijuana in their pockets,” Miller critiqued the unjust and biased systems, “and he’s just been convicted of three felonies and he’s gonna serve one month for each felony. How can you explain that to me?”

Miller, with a degree in literature, became an anonymous icon when BuzzFeed published the powerful impact statement she confronted Turner with during the sentencing, instantly going viral. Victims were united throughout the nation, even before the #MeToo wave of 2017, after reading her detailed account of the trauma she endured from both the assault and legal process. Her words drew national headlines and became a manifesto for assault survivors everywhere and a rallying cry for change. 

The lenient sentencing combined with her impact statement sparked global outrage and a national debate on racial bias and class privilege. In 2018, voters recalled California Judge Aaron Persky, who gave the measly sentencing because he was concerned “prison would have a severe impact” on the convicted rapist’s future. Despite the slap on the wrist the registered sex offender received, memes of his face with descriptions of his deeds have been in steady circulation on social media for the past 4 years — ensuring we never forget. 

The case (People v. Turner) influenced the California legislature to toughen sexual assault laws by imposing mandatory minimum sentencing terms for rapists and extending the penal code’s definition of rape to include victims who are unconscious and those subjected to nonconsensual penetration of any kind.

“Rape is not a punishment for getting drunk,” Miller affirmed. “We have this really sick mindset in our culture, as if you deserve rape, if you drink to excess. You deserve a hangover, a really bad hangover. You don’t deserve to have somebody insert their body parts inside of you.”

A newfound awareness and urgency spread across colleges about campus assault, and prominent Hollywood actresses spoke publicly of workplace harassment. As well, Christine Blasey Ford delivered a brave testimony on Capitol Hill challenging the newest Supreme Court Justice. This shows that despite the narratives that aim to coerce and silence victims, their defiant voices will continue to rise and be heard.

Miller’s voice continues to empower through her memoir “Know My Name” where she reclaims her own hope and humanity by understanding and transforming her trauma, encouraging other survivors to do so as well. This continues to lead the chorus of strong voices that will emerge to oust predators and dismantle the systems that protect and enable them.

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