Book Review: Know My Name by Chanel Miller
I’d heard your story before I knew your name.
I’d read your letter on the internet, then been furious that your attacker was jailed for just six months, despaired at the “justice” system and wondered why anyone would ever report a sexual assault and go through a trial.
Last week, I read your book, thank you for having the courage to write it. Thank you for showing how broken the system is and that change is desperately needed. Thank you for showing the world what a fighter looks like.
I can’t begin to imagine what it’s been like to be a victim of sexual assault. I can’t imagine what’s like to be a victim of sexual assault and then to essentially be put on trial, have everything poured over from sexual history to how much you drank that night. To be boiled down to ‘drunk girl at party’ while Brock Turner was lauded as a champion swimmer, upstanding young man incapable of assault. I still can’t get my head round that, why is it the victim who’s held to a higher level when it comes to behaviour? Surly we should be looking at the rapist’s behaviour?
“They seemed angry that I’d made myself vulnerable, more than the fact that he’d acted on my vulnerability”. Chanel Miller
That quote is bang on, I think of high-profile cases in the UK and comments people made at the time of reporting: Ched Evans case: “She didn’t look drunk”, “She knew what she was doing”, “why did she go back to the hotel?”, “Slag” and most laughably “she’s only doing it to make money/a name for herself”.
I think about Grace Millane who was murdered in New Zealand, the fact her killer deployed the ‘rough sex defence’, how she was put on trial and not alive to defend herself, people questioning why she was traveling alone and why she’d met a man online while doing so? I mean meeting a man and going on a date is not a crime; murdering someone you’ve gone a date with is (I can’t believe I’m even having to write that).
Here in England, there’s the ridiculous scenario where if you do make a complaint, your phone is analysed – a digital strip search so to speak; refuse and cases are dropped. Agree and I can imagine every single message/photo is analysed. It’s another example of victims being put on trial.
“I didn’t know that money could make the cell doors swing open. I didn’t know that if a woman was drunk when the violence occurred, she wouldn’t be taken seriously. I didn’t know that if he was drunk n when the violence occurred, people would offer him sympathy. I didn’t know that my loss of memory would become his opportunity. I didn’t know that being a victim was synonymous with not being believed”. Chanel Miller
In the days since I finished reading, I’ve looked into the statistics for England and Wales, one in five women have suffered some kind of sexual violence, chances are we all know someone whether they’ve shared it or not. I’ve worked with victims in refuges, I’ve worked with the families of victims, I have friends who’ve been assaulted, their experiences of the justice system very similar to yours.
As I sit here writing this today, there’s a raft of British female comediennes sharing experiences of harassment and assault in their industry on twitter, there’s an outpouring of support. Praise for their courage over speaking out; you can’t help but get a sense of de-je-vu, we’ve been here before and yet still there is no change. If any of these women choose to press charges, the system is still the same. Trolls online, victim-blaming and every detail of their private life forensically discussed in court, like they’re the ones on trial.
We must move away from this; your book will go a long way towards making that happen.
Your book should be put on the curriculum, it should be used to teach young people about consent. We still seem to have a long way to go when it comes to educating people on right and wrong. It should be a must read for many in the legal profession. I’d challenge any troll to read it and then still type crap on social media.
I know that your story is seen as a “good” experience of the justice system – what with woefully low prosecution and conviction rates on both sides of the Atlantic – but that in itself shows how badly victims are treated and ultimately let down. I hope there is real meaningful change, your story has to be part of that conversation.
One thing that struck me from the opening of your story was this quote:
“The saddest things about these cases, beyond the crimes themselves, are the degrading things the victim begins to believe about her being. My hope is to undo these beliefs”. Chanel Miller
I think you’ve achieved that; you’ve made your voice heard; you are not just a victim. You’re Chanel Miller an absolute warrior and inspiration to others.
Love Sarah xxx
radiosarahc View All
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm
Wow what a fantastic review of what sounds like an extremely powerful and emotional book. I’ll definitely be adding this to my to-read list!
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This is beautifully written, Sarah. I love that you put it in the form of a letter. This is a book that I definitely want to read, though I know it’s going to make me angry about the American justice system. I don’t know the cases you spoke about in the U.K. but obviously things are very much the same in the U.S. Why must we keep putting victims on trial like this? And why do “aspiring young men” get away with so much? It’s heartbreaking.
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Thank you. It is really good and eye opening about the effects the justice system has on victims – it does seem like the UK and US have a lot in common here. It’s ridiculous and doesn’t help change attitudes xxx