Nonfiction November: Know My Name

Yes, I know it’s no longer November, but I wanted to file this book still under the #nonfictionnovember reading project (was that hashtag even a thing, by the way?). It’s a recent memoir by Chanel Miller, and given various, ongoing international developments its topic has sort of been making the rounds in the press, so I thought it deserved to be introduced here.

Miller was the victim of the Stanford University campus-rape a few years back. Her attacker got a minimal sentence for what he had done (also, he was a promising swimmer). The whole case, which as such unfortunately is as old as time itself, became a landmark game changer in how campus rapes are looked at in the United States. The reason for this was Miller’s victim impact statement, which the Huffington Post published and which went viral immediately.

If you want to spare yourself from reading the whole book, I still urge you to google the victim impact statement, because it is bloody gold. But I would also encourage you to read Miller’s memoir, because it is a brilliant book.

Know My Name is obviously about the sexual assault and how Miller coped with its aftermath. You’d be forgiven to think such makes for depressing reading, but this one really isn’t. Miller delivers an astonishingly honest description of what she went through (she was passed out during the actual assault, meaning that it made coping with the aftermath even more difficult for her given that she had no recollection of the rape itself), but also a very empowering story of recovery from humiliation and about the strength of will.

Miller also happens to be an excellent writer (Know My Name is written by herself ie. without a ghost) – she notes in the book how the critics doubted she had written the victim impact statement herself, because it was too sophisticated how “victims aren’t smart, capable, or independent. They need external help to articulate their thoughts, needs and demands. They are too emotional to compose anything coherent. It cannot be the same drunk girl who was found unconscious, the one who the media said uncontrollably sobbed throughout testimony. On a deep level, they wanted to take away my writing, which I would not give up so easily.”

She makes sarcastic remarks about the trial, to which Brock Turner’s (the assailant) defence attorney one day brought Turner’s high school French teacher as character witness. “I took six years of French, too, but it never occurred to me to bring Madame Jensen in to let you know that I gave an excellent presentation on Le Petit Prince. What were they here to say? He never took his penis out in the class, never fondled his swimming coach?”

There’s also a great bit in which Miller mixes Turner’s and Trump’s words in a passage, commenting we live in a time where it has become difficult to distinguish between the President’s words and that of a nineteen-year-old assailant:

I just start kissing them. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. “I kissed her,” Brock said. “And you didn’t ask for her permission before you kissed her, did you,” my defence attorney said. “No,” Brock said. I moved on her like a bitch. “I kissed her cheek and ear,” Brock said. “I touched her breasts. I moved her dress down.” Grab’em by the pussy. “I took off her underwear… and then I fingered her.” I did try and fuck her.

One of Miller’s main messages is that victims need to be believed, and it is often furiously frustrating and hard. We are witnessing a similar story of ginormous proportions unfolding before our eyes, stretching across the Atlantic and making its way right into the Buckingham Palace, where the key will be how much the multiple victims’ stories are believed during the process. Do also get ready for the Weinstein-trial, scheduled to commence in January (screaming into a pillow to be expected).

There’s an excellent mini series called Unbelievable on Netflix, which dwells on this same topic. A vast majority of sexual assault cases are never reported and many girls’ and women’s stories and experiences are frequently considered as not credible, and no criminal investigations are pursued.

Despite its horrible context, Know My Name is a witty and wise book worth reading. You will not be depressed, I promise.

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