Chanel Miller of the Stanford Sexual Assault Case Tells Her Story

Chanel Miller of the Stanford Sexual Assault Case Tells Her Story

We spend the hour with author Chanel Miller speaking about her recently published remarkable memoir, Know My Name. The book chronicles how Miller reclaimed her name, her story and her life after being sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, a member of the Stanford University swim team, in 2015. At the time, she was known as “Emily Doe.” The case gained national prominence when a California judge sentenced Turner to just six months in a county jail after he was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault. He ended up spending only three months locked up. The sentencing sparked outrage. Voters in California later recalled the judge in the case. During the trial, Miller read a victim impact statement addressed to her assailant. The text of the letter later went viral, being read by millions around the world.

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: Today we spend the hour with a woman who was known to millions simply as “Emily Doe.” In 2015, a member of the Stanford University swim team, Brock Turner, sexually assaulted her while she was unconscious behind a dumpster outside a Stanford University fraternity. The assault ended when two Swedish graduate students saw what was happening, then chased after Turner and held him down until the police came. At the time, Emily Doe was a 22-year-old college graduate living at her home with her family in Palo Alto.

The case gained national prominence when a California judge sentenced Brock Turner to just six months in county jail after he was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault. He would spend three months locked up. The sentencing sparked outrage. Voters in California later recalled the judge in the case.

During the trial, Emily Doe read a victim impact statement addressed to her assailant. The text of the letter went viral after BuzzFeed published it in 2016. Well, the woman known to the world as Emily Doe recently came out to reveal her true identity in a remarkable new memoir called Know My Name. She published the book using her full name: Chanel Miller.

Well, today we spend the hour with Chanel. We begin by airing a short video she illustrated and narrated about how she moved past the sexual assault and eventually reclaimed her name, her story and her life.

CHANEL MILLER: It happened when I was 22, on the cusp of my adulthood. When you are assaulted, an identity is given to you. It threatens to swallow up everything you plan to do and to be. I became Emily Doe. Assault teaches you to shrink, makes you afraid to exist. Shame, really, can kill you.

“Unconscious,” “stupid,” “dumpster,” “swimmer,” “Stanford,” “half-naked,” “nameless,” “nobody.” Nobody wants to be defined by the worst thing that’s happened to them. I feared those words would follow me forever, so I did not speak. In court, the judge used words like “moderate,” “less serious” to describe the crime. I remember the trial. The defense attorney stood before the jury and said, “Chanel knows how you get in blackouts. You drink a lot of alcohol. And that’s what she did this night and many other nights, to be honest.”

So I wrote a victim impact statement, 12 pages. I read it at the sentencing, straight to the man who hurt me. “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me. … Fingers had been jabbed inside me. … My bare skin and head had been rubbing against the ground behind a dumpster. … I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt … waiting to figure out if I was worth something.” But the judge did not hear me.

When I released the statement, something else happened. “It has forever changed the way I carry myself, the way I live the rest of my life. … You can’t be silenced.” The world breathed life into my words. I spent all this time absorbing, absorbing, listening to their voices, until I understood.

Chanel knows how you get in blackouts. Chanel also knows how to write. And Chanel knows how to draw.

Survivors will not be limited, labeled, boxed in, oppressed. We will not be isolated. We have had enough, enough of the shame, diminishment, the disbelief, enough loneliness. Look at all this togetherness. Look out for one another. Seek whatever you wish to be in life. Speak up when they try to silence you. Stand up when they shove you down. No one gets to define you. You do. You do. My name is Chanel, and I am with you.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the voice of Chanel Miller in a video that animates her illustrations. We spend the rest of the hour with Chanel in our studio discussing her new memoir, Know My Name. I began by asking Chanel why she chose that as the title of her book.

CHANEL MILLER: I like that it’s defiant, that it’s a stepping forward, that it’s a proclamation of identity and knowing who I am and what I stand for, because in court, you’re so stripped of identity. You don’t have a name. You don’t have characteristic traits. You’re spoken about in terms of being a sum of your body parts, and really nothing more than that. So, coming forward is my way of saying, you know, I have a history, I have people that love me, and I also have talent in writing. And that’s what this is.

AMY GOODMAN: Take us back to 2015. You go to this party, you drink, you black out, and you wake up in a hospital gurney with two detectives looking down at you. Oh, I think also the dean of Stanford?

CHANEL MILLER: It’s one of the dean of students with one deputy.

AMY GOODMAN: At that moment, what did you understand?

CHANEL MILLER: All I understood was that I had been found passed out. And I’d later be told that someone was acting hinky around me. So, my impression was that there was a man giving off suspicious behavior at this party. I didn’t understand that he had made any contact with me. That was never made clear. I just knew that he was chased off the property due to his behavior and that I was somehow wrapped up in it but was unaware to the depth at which I was involved.

AMY GOODMAN: And you were not wearing your own pants.

CHANEL MILLER: Correct, no underwear.

AMY GOODMAN: And you were missing your underwear.

CHANEL MILLER: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s what you understood at that moment.

CHANEL MILLER: Yes. My dress was hiked up to my waist. I didn’t have underwear on, and I didn’t understand why or how they could be gone. And I was given hospital pants.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ask anyone to explain what is going on?

CHANEL MILLER: No. I figured if there was something that grave, they would tell me more explicitly. I also refrained from asking because I think I knew something was wrong, and I wasn’t prepared to hear the answer. I didn’t want you to tell me that I had been assaulted. I wanted that ignorance. And sometimes you need that in order to sit down with a detective, which I did that morning, and be levelheaded and go back through your night and rake through it all to give him answers. If they had disclosed everything at that moment, I think I would have been completely immobilized, unable to digest that information. So, instead, I was released home and not given anything more.

AMY GOODMAN: You had dried blood on your hands, and your hair was filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of pine needles.

CHANEL MILLER: Yes, yeah. I was standing. I was not allowed to take out the pine needles until they were photographed. So they were scratching my neck. They were falling onto the floor. I was wrapped in a blanket. They were embedded in the blanket. And when we were finally able to take them out, I was standing naked. Two other nurses with gloves on were pulling them out of my hair in silence. We were just taking them out, piece by piece. We filled an entire, like, paper lunch bag full of my hair and pine needles. And they said, “Well, that’s enough for evidence.” And we took the rest and left it on the floor.

And I worried that if I said, “My whole head was covered in pine needles,” that I would be seen as exaggerating, that I was being dramatic or, you know, that it wasn’t that intense, when, really, I would later find out that one of the deputies testified that as I was being taken into the gurney, as I was being carted into the hospital, I left a trail, that what I was left with that morning, I had already lost a lot of the debris. My head was being used to mop up a ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Which meant that perhaps you were dragged there, dragged behind the dumpster.

CHANEL MILLER: Or that there was very little care taken about my state of being when I was half-naked on the ground, that it didn’t matter where my head was, the condition of my skin. The texture of my backside was raw. None of this consideration was taken.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, there was consideration when it came to these two Swedish cyclists, who you believe saved your life.

CHANEL MILLER: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you came to understand happened. And when did you learn about these two graduate students?

CHANEL MILLER: So I had this vague understanding that students had stopped a guy at the party, at the hospital. So, in my head, I think, “OK, someone was apprehended.” Later, in the news, I would figure out that it was the two Swedish graduate students who had stopped. And then, after they testified for the first time in the preliminary hearing, I learned not only did they tackle him, they, number one, checked on me. They kneeled down to see that I was breathing, before even going after him. So, first priority is her, let him go. Now I know that she’s breathing, you start the chase. One of them went after him, did a leg sweep, tackled him. The other one followed up, and they both pinned him to the ground, because he was trying to get away. And as they were on top of him, they were saying, “Do you think this is OK? What the f— were you doing? Say sorry to her.” So, not only did they stop him, they were demanding apology, and they were refusing to go anywhere until they knew that I was going to be taken care of.

AMY GOODMAN: They called the police?

CHANEL MILLER: Or somebody — they called someone to call the police, because they were busy restraining him.

AMY GOODMAN: And when the police came, they wept?

CHANEL MILLER: So, one of the Swedes, as he was giving his testimony to the deputy, began to openly weep. And one of the deputies would later tell me he was tearing up watching him go through that.

AMY GOODMAN: What was it like to meet these two students? When did you meet them?

CHANEL MILLER: I met them maybe two months ago in New York City. I had dinner with them. And it was so amazing to be able to meet them face to face and say “thank you.” And they kept saying, “You know, you’ve already thanked us by helping the world. That’s thanks enough.” But to have them as part of my life, to have them so genuinely concerned about my well-being, for them to have returned again and again to testify repeatedly, when they could have just moved on, that’s so unbelievable to me and sets just this wonderful standard of behavior that we can hold men to.

AMY GOODMAN: You see your sister in the hospital, your little sister, your mei mei.

CHANEL MILLER: Yeah. I’m jie jie.

AMY GOODMAN: In Chinese, “little sister.” And you go home with her.

CHANEL MILLER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: You go to your parents’ house, where you grew up, the two of you grew up.

CHANEL MILLER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: But you didn’t tell them.

CHANEL MILLER: No. Well, first I did not have anything to tell them. I had no narrative yet. I didn’t understand what had happened. So I didn’t want to say, you know, “I woke up covered in bruises and scratches, half-naked. Let’s sit around the table and ruminate why that might have happened.” That would have been terrifying. And when you let your imagination off the leash, then it would send all of us spinning. So not telling them was my way of keeping the situation in my control. And I felt that as long as it was contained, I would be able to keep moving.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, how did you hide it from them? Your house isn’t that big. How did they — your parents, who are very tuned into you and your sister, your whole being.

CHANEL MILLER: I would begin to go on these long bike rides in the morning before work and process a lot on those rides. On my drives to work, I would cry, then take a moment in the parking lot to collect myself, go inside. If I needed to cry at work, I’d go in the bathroom or the stairwell. When I come home, if I can’t collect myself, again, I’ll go on a drive. I would sit in parking lots, calling hotlines, so that I understood I was not alone. But I know many victims who are masters at concealing what we’re going through. And it would surprise many people how good we are at keeping things contained, of putting on a face so that we can show up at work every morning, so that we can protect our loved ones — we don’t want to scare them — and so that we can trick ourselves into thinking ordinary life is an option for us, when really something catastrophic has happened that’s going to take an extreme amount of time to process.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about when you fully realized what happened, and then when you told your parents.

CHANEL MILLER: I found out online when I was at work, and was not able to pair the graphic story that I was reading of a discarded body with the body that was sitting in my rolling chair with a plate of goldfish at work. I did not want to pair them. And that’s sort of when this separate identity of Emily Doe was born. I think when you are traumatized, it’s easier to separate yourself, to keep the trauma in the corner, so that it’s away from you, that you can access it when you need to, but, otherwise, you’re not going to look at it or let it touch your life.

AMY GOODMAN: When did this article come out? How soon after the attack?

CHANEL MILLER: Ten days. So I was completely alone in silence for 10 days, where only my sister and I knew what had happened.

AMY GOODMAN: You read it online.

CHANEL MILLER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: And what was your reaction?

CHANEL MILLER: It’s like the insides of me just went mute. You can’t stomach it that quickly. And only when I went home that night and sat my parents down to tell them did it hit me. The look on my mother’s face was so broken open. It instantly registered how terrifying what happened was. When you see yourself through the eyes of loved ones, you understand that this isn’t something you deserved, that it’s really painful and that it was not OK. That registered. And that’s when I, you know, let go of all that posturing and completely broke down. My knees buckled. And my mom just held me. And sometimes, even if you don’t have words, you need that holding. You need someone to be showing you that they see you and that they’re here for you.

AMY GOODMAN: Chanel Miller, author of her memoir, Know My Name. When we come back, Chanel will talk about bringing charges, the trial, and she’ll read from her victim impact statement. Back with her in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Music by Michael Beharie and Teddy Rankin-Parker. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with Chanel Miller, author of the new memoir, Know My Name. The book chronicles how Chanel reclaimed her name, her story and her life, after being sexually assaulted by Brock Turner, a member of the Stanford University swim team, in 2015. I asked Chanel how she reached the decision to press charges against her assailant.

CHANEL MILLER: That happened within 24 hours of the assault. I had just pulled into my driveway with my sister, and the detective called and asked if we wanted to press charges. I did not understand the implications of this. I didn’t understand how long-term of a decision it would be.

AMY GOODMAN: Not to mention you didn’t understand that you were attacked.

CHANEL MILLER: Correct. I didn’t even know that I had been assaulted yet or what the charges were. So, my impression was that they had caught a guy and needed me to verify that, yes, they should pursue a case against him. And I thought, “All right, that sounds good to me.” So I said yes and unlocked an entirely new future for myself in that moment.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about how long this judicial process took.

CHANEL MILLER: Even though I filed within 24 hours of my assault, it still took a year and a half to get to the sentencing, and then, after that, another year and a half of the appeal, for the case to finally be closed. So a total of almost four years of my life were invested in this case, where I felt stuck, where I didn’t have the option to leave, where I was forced to return again and again to this story. So, know that even if you file that quickly, that’s how long it’s going to take.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about that period of time, when they were developing the evidence, when you heard the trial would take place, who you understood your assailant to be, how he was described — Brock Turner — and how you were described, and your decision to remain anonymous, to remain Emily Doe.

CHANEL MILLER: Yeah, he was spoken about in terms of his accolades primarily. His smiling photo was used in most of the articles. There were quotes from his previous swim coaches talking about how wonderful this was and how it was a tragedy that had befallen him. It sounded so passive, the reporting of it, as if he was the victim of a crime of external circumstances, and now everything for him was hinging on this verdict, even though my loss had already taken place and had never been up for deliberation.

AMY GOODMAN: He was a possible Olympic contender, a student at Stanford. And how were you described? How was Emily Doe described?

CHANEL MILLER: I was intoxicated, blacked out, passed out, half-naked. I was spoken about in terms of how many shots I had that night, of how many times I’ve blacked out previously in my life. All other traits were dismissed. But that’s all I got to exist as and present myself as inside the courtroom.

AMY GOODMAN: Chanel, describe your experience of the trial, when it finally took place.

CHANEL MILLER: I was looking forward to being able to testify and give my side of the story. That’s what I thought testimony was. And I quickly learned, in that environment, you are constantly discredited and diminished openly, that it becomes a game of how quickly you can answer questions that are worded in a complicated way. Half the time I’m just trying to understand what the defense attorney is asking me. And you’re forced to remember that night down to the minute. At what time did you pee? How many yards away from the house did you pee? As if I’m supposed to be living my life counting yards, counting sips. It was extremely dehumanizing. And the way they speak to you as if you’re a criminal, you feel like you’ve done something wrong. Surely, you have, if you’re being treated this way.

AMY GOODMAN: And they brought on a blackout expert?

CHANEL MILLER: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain.

CHANEL MILLER: They paid $10,000 to this, quote-unquote, “blackout expert,” who came in and testified that even though I was blacked out, I could have been completely willing and able to consent, that Brock had no way of knowing that I was in a blackout, so basically absolving him from the responsibility of reading social cues, of having the decency to know how to treat a person.

AMY GOODMAN: So the trial took three weeks. Talk about what Brock Turner was originally charged with, what those charges were reduced to, and then the jury verdict.

CHANEL MILLER: Yeah. At first he was charged with five felonies, two of which were for rape of an intoxicated person and rape of an unconscious person. Those rape charges were dropped because in California rape is solely defined as the act of sexual intercourse. So, digital penetration, fingers, doesn’t count as rape. It’s defined as sexual assault. Whereas the FBI’s definition of rape is any kind of penetration. So the two rape charges were dropped. Sexual assault charges remained, and so did assault with intent to rape. That was the third felony he was charged with. And my impression is that the only reason he wasn’t able to rape was because he ran out of time, because two people intervened, not because he chose to draw the line there.

AMY GOODMAN: So, where were you when the verdict was handed down?

CHANEL MILLER: I was called to the courtroom. Basically, after closing statements are given at the trial, the jury deliberation began. They say, “We’re going to give you a text sometime within the next two weeks, and you will have 15 minutes to show up at the courthouse.” So, I went home and just was waiting for two days for the text. When I got it, I drove in.

And they read out the three counts. And then, after that, they went through each jury member and said, “State your individual vote for each count.” So I was sitting there, and they go through each jury member. And jury member number one says, “Yes.” Number two says, “Yes.” “Yes.” “Is he guilty of this?” “Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.”

And I was sitting there listening to the sounds of these yeses, all of that validation just like pounding and embedded inside of me. And I was struck by this immense sadness, because in the very beginning, when I knew that my assailant had been chased away, I knew the answer was yes. Of course he was guilty. I knew that from day one. But over the course of a year and a half, I had drifted so far from myself. I had forgotten what I was worth, that I deserved to be treated better. I had learned to doubt myself and to sit with shame in months of isolation. And by the time the verdict came around, I thought, “Do I even deserve to be sitting here?” All that’s happened is that my loved ones are broken, and I feel completely depleted.

And then I began to hear those yeses, and I was like, “Oh my goodness, I completely forgot. I forgot what I was worth.” And that’s so sad to me. And I feel like it’s my job for other victims who are experiencing this to keep them at that yes, to not let them drift so far for so long from who they are, but to keep them right there in the knowing that they’re supposed to be safe.

AMY GOODMAN: Chanel Miller. Her memoir, Know My Name, has just been published. When we come back, Chanel will read from her victim impact statement. Back with her in a minute.