Your Silence Will Not Protect You

Chanel Miller, until recently referred to as Emily Doe, was assaulted while unconscious on the campus of Stanford University as she was returning from Kappa Alpha frat-party with her sister. Miller did not want to be reduced to an anonymous rape victim of a court-case, which became a nation-wide topic, and her memoir Know My Name was published recently.

I have not read her memoir, but have followed the press around the case with interest. Miller has been referred to as “the lucky one” (begs for explanation!) Journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell (The Outliers, The Tipping Point) argued in his latest book Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know that the case Miller/Turner is a case about alcohol. “A young woman and a young man meet at a party, then proceed to tragically misunderstand each other’s intentions – and they’re drunk” Gladwell writes.

Tragically misunderstand each other’s intentions.
Miller was raped while unconscious, on a campus ground behind dumpsters next to the Kappa Alpha frat house. The nurses spent hours picking pine needles from Miller’s scalp when she was taken to the nearby medical center after two Swedish students found her and called the police.
Tragically misunderstood intentions.

I do not have a particular interest to read literature about sexual assaults, but somehow ended up reading two novels, both featuring red in their titles, that happened to be about this topic. What Red Was by Rosie Price and The Red Word by Sarah Henstra both have similarities (campus/university novels and written from a feminist viewpoint), they approach the topic slightly differently: What Red Was (set in the UK) concentrates more on the trauma and the cost of staying silent. The Red Word (takes place in the U.S.) is more about the clash between the American fraternity culture and women’s right to safety on campus.

The Red Word in particular runs an interesting Greek mythology sub-context, which makes it impossible to not draw parallels with Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, also set on an U.S. campus (though this parallel is very superficial – there are some similar elements, but the Red Word ain’t no Secret History)

I wouldn’t classify either of the Red-books as particular feel-good novels though they are both good reads, but they offer important food for thought to the eternal-seeming discussion about women’s right to safety and their own bodies, consent, and more importantly, the horribly heavy burden of proof that still often befalls on the victim.

In Miller’s case, it seemed as if the system had more sympathy for the assailant, Brock Turner than Miller, “the drunk girl at the party”. Miller’s assailant served three months in prison. Anything more than that would have been “too steep a price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life” (from Turner’s father’s testimony).

If you have read Know My Name, let me know your thoughts.

The title of this post is the title of Audre Lorde’s collection of feminist short stories and poems.

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