UCSB alum Chanel Miller boldly shares her story
For years she was known as “Emily Doe” or “Brock Turner’s unconscious victim.”
But now, Chanel Miller, author of the award-winning memoir “Know My Name,” has reclaimed her story, boldly sharing her journey of finding strength in the aftermath of trauma.
As a UCSB alum, Ms. Miller told the News-Press that Santa Barbara was her first “home away from home,” and holds a special place in her heart and memory. Though she cannot physically travel to Santa Barbara due to the pandemic, she will be sharing more about her memoir and her writing with local residents virtually through Chaucer’s Books Virtual Author Discussion on Feb. 11.
More than six years ago in January 2015, Ms. Miller was sexually assaulted while unconscious by former Stanford student Brock Turner. Two other Stanford students saw the incident occurring and pinned Mr. Turner down until police arrived and arrested him. Upon waking up in the hospital hours later, Ms. Miller had no memory of the incident but was bloodied and bruised from the assault.
In a court case that drew international attention, Mr. Turner was found guilty of three felony counts in March 2016. He was sentenced to six months in jail — a sentence that Ms. Miller and many of her supporters felt was far too lenient. After the case closed, Ms. Miller released her heart-wrenching victim impact statement under the pseudonym Emily Doe.
The 12-page statement sent shockwaves around the world and inspired many women to tell their stories of assault at the start of the #MeToo movement.
As the case came to a close, an agent approached Ms. Miller and offered her a book deal to tell her story. As a UCSB alum with a degree in literature, she had always dreamed about publishing a book, but never imagined it would be about her life after sexual assault.
“It was so strange because right after the sentencing is when I was approached by an agent and editors to do the book deal, and it was this extremely bittersweet moment where I was emerging from a nightmare and also entering my dream of being a writer,” Ms. Miller told the News-Press.
The initial decision to write the memoir was difficult to make because she would be sharing with the world all of the details about the worst thing that ever happened to her, Ms. Miller said. At times she felt bitter, thinking that this was the topic she was “assigned.”
While deciding whether to publish her story, Ms. Miller said she just kept thinking: “If I don’t at least put my perspective on the table, no one will really know what it was like for me. They will only know in the news that I cried while testifying and the state I was found in.”
“In writing (the memoir), I learned that I did have so much to say,” Ms. Miller said. “I think I underestimate that sometimes and write myself off too early. When I really listened to myself, there was so much that wanted to come out.”
After waking up in the hospital the morning after the assault, Ms. Miller remembers being handed a flyer with the words “IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT” written in all caps. At the time, the saying did not really do anything to comfort her after the trauma she faced, Ms. Miller said.
As she began to write her memoir, Ms. Miller considered what kind of book she would have liked to receive in the hospital the morning after the assault.
That is the book she set out to write.
“When I hear that survivors (read my book) and in the end believe it wasn’t their fault, that’s when I feel like I’ve done my work,” Ms. Miller said.
Since the release of her memoir, Ms. Miller has become an international icon, standing as a symbol for so many individuals who have been sexually assaulted. Her story has taken her to places all over the world, and her memoir is currently being translated into multiple languages.
Ms. Miller fondly recalled one of her travels to Amsterdam in the early months of 2020 before the pandemic. She took a train ride to a small town, where folks gathered in a local church waiting to hear her speak.
In the midst of her trauma following the assault and the court case, Ms. Miller remembered her mother telling her that scenes of happiness would still exist for her if she could just keep holding on. During those years, Ms. Miller admitted, finding happiness again seemed “unimaginable” to her.
“If you would have shown me that scene (in Amsterdam) a few years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to make sense of it — that these warm moments existed for me in these corners of the world,” Ms. Miller said.
Ms. Miller recently left the Bay Area to move to New York City, a move she hoped would help shed some of the trauma of the past and allow for a new beginning.
“Once I completed the memoir, I wanted complete freshness in my life,” Ms. Miller said. “It was the first time in my adult life that I could choose to go anywhere. It was the first time I was not on a leash attached to that case or that story.”
Now Ms. Miller spends her days doing what she does best: writing and creating. Her drawings have been featured in The New York Times and she plans to release a book for younger readers in the near future.