I readily confess that on multiple occasions reading Chanel Miller’s memoir, Know My Name, I alternated between fury and choking up. It is not an easy read, but a story that needed telling. Miller tells it brilliantly. While there are passages that I thought were a bit overwritten, it is not hard to understand why her way of expressing her pain, and resilience in the face of so much power stacked against her, was necessary to get the whole story out. Not just the story of what happened to her, which was hard enough to take, but the story of the struggle to escape the emotional binding that the sexual assault, the rape, imposed on her and her family. Spoiler Alert: I am going to tell you some key things about the plot, but you should read on. The eventual outcome has been widely reported. Miller leaves everything in the open, so proceed with empathy and compassion.
This is a book that every young male should read. Word for painful word. The world we live in has many and diverse perils, especially for young women. The source of many of those perils, though surely not all of them (see, e.g., Weinstein, Epstein, Nassar, etc. etc.), are young men.
As Miller so compellingly writes, the young man who raped her while she was unconscious should have known better. Everything about his privileged life, except perhaps the core privilege itself, should have made clear to him that what he was doing was wrong. There can be no argument about this, no way of seeing this otherwise.
But, of course, there was an argument. Faced with the consequences of conduct that he apparently had not thought about, the perpetrator, with the help/prodding/direction of his well-to-do parents, decided to fight Miller’s claim that she had not consented to his assault. He was ultimately convicted on all three felony counts and ultimately his appeal was denied. Her statement to the court, directed at the perpetrator, quickly went viral, bringing unprecedented attention to her case. The judge whose minimal sentence of six months plus three years’ probation for the rapist (he was released three months early) led to his eventual recall, the loss of his job as directed by the voters, by the community expressing its collective rejection of victim-blaming and of unbalanced visions of who was responsible for what behavior. I don’t have words for what was wrong with the sentence, but Miller does.
As I said, this was a hard read. It’s hard even to write this brief recommendation that you read the book. Not hard in any way comparable or equivalent to what Miller went through. Her book provides a deep and passionate picture of the toll that sexual assault takes of its victim and of the victim’s friends and family. It makes clear there is only one victim. The perpetrator is not a victim of anything but his own self-regard and indifference to the physical and emotional integrity of others. Miller shows remarkable, almost super-human capacity for empathy toward her attacker, but in the end, he denies her even the comfort of knowing that she reached him, that he finally understood what he had done to her.
Read this book. Everyone, man, woman, young, old, can learn from it.