Remember Chanel Miller?
Probably not; I didn't. But you might remember Brock Turner, who in 2015 assaulted Miller while she was unconscious, and was given six months of jail time—of which he served three.
Back then, this is what we knew of Miller: We called her Emily Doe. She drank alcohol that night, a topic that was exhaustively dissected. And when her statement of what happened to her was published on BuzzFeed, 18 million people read it.
That's 18 million people who heard her, even when the judge didn't. (He's since been fired from his post … and recently, fired again from a job coaching JV girls tennis.)
It's only this month that Chanel Miller decided to reveal her identity, coinciding with the release of her memoir, Know My Name. She's sharing news of the latter with "I Am With You," a short film she wrote, illustrated and voiced:
This is about what happens when you become an assault survivor. "Nobody wants to be defined by the worst thing that's happened to them," she says at one point, unspooling how your sense of safety and self collapses. Watching the work, I understood "survivor" differently: It began to feel less like a label for an event in past tense, and more like a jail sentence in itself—a continuous task of surviving a role in a play you cannot leave.
"I Am With You," produced by Emily Moore, Crankbunny and Emerald Pictures in association with quiet and RALLY, is as gentle as Miller's experience was brutal. She also talks about the moment that the guilt imposed on her—"Chanel knows how you get in blackouts"—made way for something else: "Chanel also knows how to write. And Chanel knows how to draw."
The writing part was evident in her court statement, but the video brings both talents to the fore. I'm with her when she lives out her shame, the images evoking abject darkness even as her voice remains dry, matter-of-fact.
And to my surprise, I started to cry.
I was 6 the first time an adult man molested me, and the first sensation I had was a shame that burned. It kept me from telling my parents for years. The feelings followed me into my teens, when they caused an explosion of rage so violent that a teacher sent me to counseling.
Twice I was raped—in high school, by my first boyfriend, and again after college, by a friend.
These events affected me in odd ways. It was easy, later, to laugh about them sardonically. Over coffee with another female friend, she evoked a game she sometimes plays with other women: "'Was it a rape, or wasn't it...?'"
Before watching "I Am With You," I was fine, and most of the time, that's true. But watching it reminded me of the things I'm still working on, and will probably be working on, beneath the surface of conscious thought, for the rest of my life—suspicion, vigilance, rage and loneliness.
Even in recounting this, I feel how people's perceptions of me may change—they'll use it to justify certain behaviors, label me broken or fragile. I can feel how, each time I describe what now feel like banal events many women share, the social pull into the "survivor script" becomes almost overwhelming.
So it becomes better not to discuss it at all. Nobody wants to be Joan of Arc; we all just want to get on with things.
This is also part of Miller's story, key to the revelation of her identity. The people who heard her when she was in pain, strangers who reached through in darkness, helped her find her way back. All these stories don't just assuage the loneliness and shame; they serve as a message: More people are watching now. We are all watching, and we want to live in a world where this shit doesn't slide, and where a snarky whisper network doesn't play games like "Was it or wasn't it…?"
"Survivors will not be limited, labeled, boxed in, oppressed. We will not be isolated. We've had enough—enough of the shame, diminishment, disbelief, enough loneliness," Miller says. "Look at all this togetherness. Look out for one another. Seek whatever you wish to be in life. Speak up when they try to silence you, stand up when they shove you down."
In a recent interview with the Guardian, Miller describes what drove her decision to give Emily Doe a name and face. She admitted that, in 2015, she thought her assault would be simple for a court to understand; "If someone is found humping an unmoving body, what is the case?" she reflected.
Much of that piece explores how wrong she realized that belief was. The minutiae involved in securing Turner a lenient sentence was boggling, an odious grasping from parties more interested in trying her life than Turner's action.
I was reminded of a male friend bemusedly wondering, "Why do so few women who get assaulted call the police?" This is why: The court explored everything but the event in order to nullify it, from Miller's relationship status at the time to the fact that, just prior, she went outside to pee.
The Guardian also raised Malcolm Gladwell's decision to use pieces of Miller's court transcript in his latest book, Talking to Strangers, positioning it as a misunderstanding.
So Miller's still living out some uncool stuff. But while anonymity was critical to her survival at the time, the decision to reveal her name now is a way to take back identity and power. "No one gets to define you. You do. You do," she says near the end of her video.
This is a call to action. But the action is an embrace, which she underscores in her last line: "My name is Chanel. And I am with you."
(I am, too.)
Co-Director, Writer, Artist – Chanel Miller
Co-Director, Producer – Emily Moore
Animator – Crankbunny/Norma V. Toraya
Director of Photography – Anna Franquesa-Solano
Editor – Ali Mao
Composer – Clarice Jensen
Music Supervisor – Sara Matarazzo
Live Action Production Company – Emerald Pictures
Co-Founders, Eps (Emerald Pictures) – Mara Milićević, John Duffin
(more credits at completion of film)