This is a book I think most of us should read, though it’s definitely not an easy read.
In 2015, Chanel Miller went to a party at Stanford. Two guys found her unconscious on the ground near a dumpster, with a guy on top of her. When they yelled the guy ran, so they tackled him and called the police. Chanel woke up in a nearby hospital with no idea what had happened to her.
You probably remember hearing about this in the news. I certainly do. Her attacker was Brock Turner, a swimmer at Stanford, and a white guy from a family with a lot of money. The case went to trial. Though her identity was kept private, Miller made a statement at Turner’s sentencing that was shared around the world. In her statement, she vividly describes what happened to her, and how it impacted her life. Despite her powerful and moving statement, the judge sentenced him to only a few months in jail. He thought the poor kid had suffered enough.
He was a kid, not a criminal. Accomplished, not dangerous. He was the one who lost everything. I was just the nobody it happened to.
Miller’s story isn’t so much about rape but about the aftermath of rape. She takes us through the impact the lengthy trial has on her life and her emotional well-being. Her story is disturbing for a lot of reasons. It’s disturbing because what happens to Miller can and does happen to so many women, especially in high school and college. It’s disturbing because universities seem to be unwilling to address the problem of sexual assault on campus. And it’s disturbing because of the many ways women are blamed for assault. It’s still about what we wear, where we walk at night, who we’re with, and how much we drink. Women are expected to constantly protect themselves from harm, and blamed when they don’t.
Society gives women the near impossible task of separating harmlessness from danger, the foresight of knowing what some men are capable of. When we call out assault when we hear it, Trump says, I don’t think you understand. Just words. You are overreacting, overly offended, hysterical, rude, relax!!! So we dismiss threatening statements and warning signs, apologizing for our paranoia. We go into a party or meeting thinking it’s just a party or meeting. But when we are taken advantage of, and come crawling back damaged, they say, How could you be so naive, you failed to detect danger, let your guard down, what did you think would happen?
Reading this book made me think about how Miller’s story is just one of many. We need to hear so many more stories, so we can better understand. So many people experience the horror of sexual assault but can’t talk about it, whether they are stifled emotionally, or legally, don’t have the ability to write or aren’t given a platform. Miller points out how rare it is that a case like this even goes to trial. She’s speaking for so many people who never get the chance to speak for themselves.
Victims exist in a society that tells us our purpose is to be an inspiring story. But sometimes the best we can do is tell you we’re still here, and that should be enough. Denying darkness does not bring anyone closer to the light.
I think this book will be important for the many people who have experienced sexual assault, but I think it’s even more important for the people who have no idea what that’s like. Reading this book, I found myself so angry about how little we do to prevent rape, especially in college. It shouldn’t be okay for women to be afraid so much of the time.
Chanel Miller is inspiring for her strength and her determination. She didn’t choose this path, but once she was on it, she didn’t give up the fight. Brock Turner may not have spent much time in prison, but at least Miller has made sure his actions won’t be forgotten. And maybe this book is the catalyst for a conversation about rape that is long overdue.
I recommend looking Miller up on YouTube because she’s done a lot of interviews and she’s even more amazing when you hear her speak (I hear her audiobook is also excellent). And for a fictional book that deals with many of the same issues, I highly recommend Louise O’Neill’s Asking For It.
Note: I read this book for the Nonfiction Reading Challenge. It meets a few categories: true crime, memoir, and feminism.