In salvaging the fractured parts of herself to become whole again, Chanel Miller is elevating the #MeToo movement to another level. She has taken full control of the narrative.
She doesn’t look like ourtypical victim of sexual assault, the cowering, bruised, silenced one we’ve seen depicted in movies and in the media.
Smiling, eyes wide, and with her shoulders back, Chanel Miller looks like the kind of person who owns every inch of herself.
Standing in front of a wall of her own artwork and between a bunch of bright yellow flowers and a vibrant green plant, as a previously anonymous woman, she shows no signs of trauma, victimisation or defeat.
In the photo, we see only a resilient, hopeful, and capable individual who appears to feel proud of who she is.
Up until three days ago, September 4, 2019, the world knew Chanel Miller only as Emily Doe — the victim of a brutal sexual assault on Stanford University’s campus on January 17, 2015.
We knew the attacker’s name, Brock Turner, how his friends felt about him, we even knew his swimming times, but we knew nothing about Chanel — her art, her hobbies, how good she was at cooking. And we definitely did not know her name.
And then last Thursday, she decided to reveal her name and face in the New York Times, as the publication of her memoir Know My Name later this month was announced.
Up until now we knew only about the bad things that had happened to Chanel; they defined how the world viewed her.
We’d read about the pine needles and other “debris” that were found inside her body.
We’d read about how she was found lying next to a dumpster, naked from the waist down.
We’d read about how her bra had been pulled off and how her necklace was tangled up around her neck, how her underwear was found six inches away from her bare stomach and how she was found unconscious, but curled up in foetal position.
In her victim impact statement, one that reverberated around the world and was read aloud on the floor of the House of Representatives, she told us about waking up in a hospital bed covered in dried blood and with pine needles in her hair.
There was no memory, only evidence, of what had happened.
And then there was the aftermath, the immediate one filled with examinations.
I had long, pointed beaks inside me and had my vagina smeared with cold, blue paint to check for abrasions,” Chanel wrote in her victim impact statement, in the summer of 2016.
Not that sexual assault is uncommon, because one in four is the statistic. The reason the case drew so much attention was because of the empathy and kindness with which the perpetrator was treated.
He was so young, 20. He had no criminal record. He was a really good swimmer. He had all sorts of upstanding members of society publicly supporting him, never mind the trial judge
“A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Judge Aaron Persky said after Brock was convicted on three counts of sexual assault.
The maximum sentence he could have received was 14 years, but prosecutors recommended just six. The judge gave him six months. Brock was out after three and tried to have his convictions overturned. He was unsuccessful in his attempt.
The judge, when handing down the six-month sentence, explained that mitigating factors such as good character references had helped bring him to his lenient decision.
In a letter written by Brock’s own father, he pleaded against a stint in prison because it was “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life”.
“His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear, and depression. You can see this in his face, the way he walks, his weakened voice, his lack of appetite,” his father wrote.
These kinds of symptoms are ones usually experienced by the victim of the assault or rape, now they were being uttered on behalf of the perpetrator, in an effort to elicit leniency, which they did.
Chanel Miller, in her victim impact statement, was having none of it.
"You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today,” she said.
She described wanting to vacate and check out of her own body, how she literally didn’t want it anymore, while Brock’s father described his son no longer wanting to eat his favoured steak.
Chanel said how she would have nightmares of being touched and she was unable to wake up to stop it happening, so instead she would wait for the sun to come up and then go to sleep.
She even left work, the day-to-day had become impossible, and she had to explain the private details of why she was leaving to her boss.
But now, an assault, an “excruciating” trial, and, three years later, Emily Doe, the ten-syllabled “unconscious intoxicated woman” is Chanel Miller, and she’s not only found her voice but she’s reclaimed her narrative too.
On the cover of her book are three lines of gold, inspired by the Japanese art of kintsugi or “golden repair”. This is where damaged pottery pieces are put back together using glue and powdered gold — a process that makes a new, beautiful object out of something that has been broken.
In salvaging the fractured parts of herself to become whole again, Chanel Miller is elevating the #MeToo movement to another level.
Chanel Miller has taken full control of a narrative that once depicted her as a drunk girl at a frat party, and her potential-filled attacker as a victim.
While her impact statement as Emily Doe had the effect of changing laws in California, it is Chanel Miller standing tall, broad-shouldered, smiling and unbowed, while announcing her book in the New York Times, that will hopefully change minds, and culture too.
Not only will victims report assaults, some will have no fear telling the whole world all about it too. In the age of #MeToo, silence is nolonger golden.