Chanel Miller deserves to say her name.
Her name should be more than just known
This Article contains a trigger warning for sexual assualt
When Chanel Miller came forward earlier this month announcing that she was the woman Brock Turner assaulted behind a dumpster in 2015, and who went to court in 2016, I felt an overwhelming surge of pride and devastation.
While Miller’s decision to come forward is undoubtedly a heartbreaking revelation, I cannot help but feel proud, inspired, moved by Miller’s choice to use her voice to make a statement – one that is so much bigger than herself, and one that speaks to sexual assault victims everywhere.
When Miller was sexually assaulted in 2015, the media was infamously calm and sweet in their portrayal of Turner. Many news outlets referred to him as an “ex-Stanford University swimmer” in headlines, painting the picture of a well-focused, driven university student when in reality, none of that was relevant to the story. Brock Turner was, and is, and always will be, an assaulter.
In the midst of painting Turner as a well-educated young saint, news outlets painted Miller – then unnamed – as anything but. She was often described as the unnamed, unconscious, and intoxicated woman who’d been passed out behind a dumpster when Turner took advantage of her.
To recap: Turner, the assailant, was depicted in media outlets as a swimmer and a scholar. His victim was painted as a drunk woman who had collapsed outside after a night of drinking.
After the assault and in the midst of the trial, Miller remained nameless. When Turner was sentenced to only six months in jail, she remained nameless. When he only served three, she remained nameless.
In situations like this, many are quick to hop on the backlash train, claiming that those who attempt to go public with trauma are only doing so to make money. This can be seen on the daily in pop culture, especially in the music industry, when music artists attempt to speak on issues that are close to their hearts. Often times, people portray these moves to be calculated ways to sway public interest and to garner money and/or sympathy. For some reason, in the modern day, it’s hard for anyone to see being vocal as anything other than calculated and manipulative. My fear is that Miller’s story will soon become one of these.
Miller’s decision to go public with her name and story is an empowering move to anyone who has ever needed to struggle with trauma behind closed, locked doors. The way assault victims are shamed into silence is a very real, very horrific, and very dangerous threat. Not only do assault victims struggle to be believed, but the trial process is so dehumanizing, embarrassing, and vulnerable that many are shamed into silence.
This leaves us with Miller: a woman who was not only poorly portrayed by the media while her attacker was seen as the opposite, but whose trial was manipulative, embarrassing, and traumatizing. Still, here she is despite it all: speaking out. And she’s speaking out not just for herself, not for profit, and not for book sales: she’s speaking out on behalf of all sexual assault survivors who are shamed and shunned into silence because their trauma is something too taboo to speak about.
Miller is turning her story into not just her own. Her novel is hers, her trauma is hers, but her bravery to take ownership of her own story and not let the media, or Brock Turner, paint it for her is something that is bigger than her and her story. It’s a statement – a piece of courage that those who have suffered through sexual assault can look up to. She was the girl who faced backlash unlike anything else, whose assailant got off practically scot-free, and yet who refuses to cower despite the media’s portrayal of her.
Chanel Miller is nothing short of an inspiration and leader, and would we be foolish to say otherwise.
Yet, despite how inspirational and powerful her speaking out is, I still fear that the world will refuse to see how meaningful this decision is. I fear that the world will boil down her bravery and story into nothing more than a calculated move to make money, as so many others in the public eye have been forced to endure before her when speaking out.
When sexual assault survivors speak, they are often portrayed as manipulative attention-seekers who are use their trauma as something to profit off of; as if trauma can ever cause the victim to gain rather than lose. No matter what the verdict is, no matter what the punishment is, no matter what happens to the victim from that point onward, they still carry the trauma of what has happened to them. They’ve still “lost,” even if the courts have decided that they won. Trauma and assault have no winners.
This is more than a book deal, and this is more than a way for her to “make money off of a tragedy.” This is Miller giving voice to the hundreds upon thousands of sexual assault victims who are forced into silence. The Brock Turner case is arguably one of the most followed, and scrutinized, public sexual assault cases and trials of the decade, and the victim has decided to speak out about her treatment, the treatment of her assailant, and highlighting what about all of it needs to change.
Chanel Miller deserves more than just for her voice to be known. She deserves for her voice to be heard when it was silenced for the months and years surrounding her assault and trail. Now, it is her chance to speak, and now it is our turn to listen.