I saw Know My Name (2019) by Chanel Miller available at the library on audiobook, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to listen to it. I had heard the story of the Stanford swimmer who had sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. I knew that even with two witnesses, he received a light jail sentence. I remembered the collective outrage from the sentencing, and I thought I already knew the story. Add to the fact that rape isn’t exactly a fun topic, and I was leaning against reading it.
Something changed my mind, though. And as I began to listen to Chanel Miller narrate her own nightmare, I realized that even though I knew the outlines of what had occurred, I had known nothing about Chanel Miller or how these things felt to her.
Miller discusses in great detail what led up to the assault, why she was at a frat party, and what she remembers. I did not think about how scary it would be to wake up surrounded by strangers who won’t tell you what happened but keep hinting at rape: to not know what happened to you or who did it. (Miller finally read the details of what occurred in a news article about a week later.)
Miller also highlights the psychological difficulty of dealing with the assault. How she felt angry, powerless, and scared–the difficulties with sleeping and intimacy. And what made this exponentially worse was the legal system. Pre-trial hearings and the trial were pushed back, forcing Miller to put her life on hold. She felt like she couldn’t do anything with it still hanging over her head. Even worse was the blame the defense attorney piled on her and her sister for letting this happen. And for Miller forgetting what happened. And this was with two witnesses! Two witnesses who saw in an instant that what Brock was doing was wrong, and stopped him in the act. I’ve read that dealing with the justice system is one of the worst things for a victim struggling with PTSD from an assault, so this wasn’t a surprise, but Miller’s descriptions of all the humiliating details and how everything affected her were still eye-opening to me.
I was very impressed with Miller’s writing. The details she includes, her descriptions, and especially her illustrations of her feelings were phenomenal. So often, the damage done to victims of sexual assault is minimized or swept to the side. In Brock’s case, there was a huge emphasis on what a “promising young man” he was: smart and athletic. The first article Miller read about her own assault ended with Brock’s swim times. It made her feel like nothing. Miller’s book gives the reader a real understanding of the effects of Brock’s actions.
Highly recommended for Miller’s writing. Also, the more people know about the real effects of rape, the better.*
“My pain was never more valuable than his potential.”
“We force her to think hard about what this will mean for his life, even though he never considered what his actions would do to her.”
*I found Missoula by Jon Krakauer to be a very illuminating book on this subject as well.
You can find all my reviews on my blog.