The name Chanel Miller might be an unfamiliar one, but Emily Doe’s Impact Statement from the Stanford University (Calif.) sexual assault case of 2016 has made waves online, in print and on-air. Miller, a survivor of sexual assault, first stepped into the spotlight in 2016 when Buzzfeed News published her statement which revealed to the world that she is Emily Doe. Through her memoir “Know My Name,” she narrates her journey not only recovering from sexual assault but also reliving her trauma throughout the judiciary process.
“Know My Name” is graphic at times. The memoir challenges the audience’s understanding of society and its tolerance for violence by giving a voice to a perspective that is often reduced to the label of “victim.” It highlights the “madness of the system” faced by Miller and other survivors of sexual assault as they demand justice. In “Know My Name,” Miller eloquently shares her experience with the broken legal system and works to mend and reshape it; she brings awareness to the barriers she faced during her experience in the trial and onward while also shaping her own journey in healing. The description of the assault occurring early in the memoir might seem off-putting at first, but Miller’s illustrative storytelling throughout the entirety of the book draws the audience in and gives an air of familiarity to the writing.
After a brief introduction, “Know My Name” begins with Miller describing her values of loyalty and family. It then follows the immediate aftermath of Miller’s assault, which leaves no facet of her life unaffected. It shows how she works through her daily routine while maintaining her separate, court-bound life as Emily Doe. Miller depicts how she moves across the country to Rhode Island to regain a sense of control, awaiting the call that she has to rush back to California for court.
Throughout her memoir, Miller includes expository tangents that help establish her feelings; she continually develops her voice by giving compounding context to her emotions. For example, she goes into the great expectations that permeated her high school and the resultant string of tragic suicides that caused desensitization to trauma. This connects back to the detachment Miller felt immediately after her assault, and how Miller tended to rush to the aid of her family, especially her younger sister, instead of leaning on others to help herself. By relating the emotions she feels in the moment to events from her past, Miller effectively adds depth to each individual moment.
What stands out about this memoir is the literary artistry involved in communicating Miller’s remarkable courage. When she is pelted with questions by the defense attorney, she jumps from a first-person to a third-person point of view to describe how she was treated in court. She does this by occasionally referring to the court transcript instead of her own testament, offering an alternate perspective of the overwhelming moment; Miller herself utilizes these documents as she prepares to testify in order to clarify moments in court she didn’t quite remember or was overwhelmed by.
Miller makes it perfectly clear that while the trial, at face value, focused on giving her justice, it takes its toll on her mental health.
Other times, she represents the downward spiral of momentary anxiety by repeating phrases. Miller grounds herself as she prepares for her testimony in court by reading court papers on the bedroom floor of her childhood home. She is anchored by the familiar carpet, and as Miller becomes increasingly nervous about her testimony, she repeats the word “carpet” to remind herself that she is tethered to that feeling of safety. These moments solicited the strongest response from me, as I was drawn in by Miller’s heightened emotional storytelling.“Know My Name” uncovers much of the trial that would have otherwise remained unknown, and Miller’s descriptions of her recovery process are especially resonant. Miller frequently discusses her image in the media as well as the supportive notes she received after her statement was published. These messages, positive and negative, had a significant impact on Miller because for much of her journey she felt as if she walked alone.
The memoir shows how members of Miller’s community shared with her that they, too, have survived sexual assault but were dissuaded from taking action. Miller was emboldened by the nurses working at the clinic she wakes up in the morning after her assault, as well as the solidarity she felt with other survivors of sexual assault. Most notably Miller states that she felt supported by cyclists that tackled her assaulter despite not knowing who she was. Miller teaches us how to open our eyes to the countless people who support us in our daily lives and to embrace the instinct to help others; Miller writes how even the smallest actions toward kindness had a long lasting impact on her life.
“Know My Name” is not just Chanel Miller’s memoir or an account of Emily Doe’s experience as a survior of rape. The memoir is a window into a community that is affected by and recovering from its selfhood being stolen. It illuminates the ways a system that was made to serve a survivor instead has harmed her. Most importantly, however, Chanel Miller’s graceful and inspiring writing in “Know My Name” represents hope and shows that it is within the audience’s power to implement kindness into their own daily battles.