In June 2016, a victim impact statement was published on Buzzfeed, and went viral. The author, known then as Emily Doe, spoke eloquently and passionately about her sexual assault, the trial she had been through, and how her life had been affected. Her rapist, Brock Turner, received only six months in prison after being found guilty of the crime. He served only half of that. Much was made of his potential, the impact it would have on his future, how it was a mistake brought on by drunkenness. People ignored his actions and the potential of his victim, crowding her out of her own story because Turner could supposedly swim fast, as if that is the important measure of a person’s worth. Millions of people read the impact statement, and the judge in the case, the one who had chosen to reduce the sentence, was recalled from office.
Now writing under her own name, Chanel Miller tells her own story of those events and what led up to the writing of that statement. She describes in detail the night of the assault, waking up in the hospital afterwards with no memory, the sense of dread as she realises something is amiss, trying to remain strong in the face of her sister’s tears, and learning the truth of what happened – horrifyingly while sitting at her work desk reading the news. The book covers the trial and how she is forced to put her life on hold as hearings are rescheduled and pushed back, how this affects all those around her, the strain on her relationship, and how her life shrinks through her fear and depression.
But this is not a bleak telling. Miller’s words are fiery and incensed. Why should she have to shut up and disappear when she did nothing wrong? Why do women have to put up with catcalling and harassment in the street, when all we’re trying to do is get through the day? She calls out those who would blame her, for drinking, for going to the party in the first place, for speaking out and ‘ruining’ a young man’s life. But it’s not with hatred or scorn that she does this really, but with a hope to teach, to show them she is a person, to have them feel empathy instead of just dismissing her. She also talks about how hard it is to navigate the court system, how much time it sucks from your life, and how it needs to be improved to help serve victims better.
One line that made me gasp/sob didn’t come from Chanel, but from her little sister, Tiffany, after the statement went viral: “All it took for any ambiguous or mean or victim-blaming comments to disappear was your voice.” It is a powerful voice, and I hope I get to hear more from it.