On reading “Know My Name” and studying the law of rape in the same week
For years, writer and artist Chanel Miller was known to the world only as “Emily Doe.” She was the faceless victim of Brock Turner, the Stanford prepstep who in 2015 was convicted of three counts of felony sexual assault, yet ended up serving just three months in jail due to what the judge perceived as Turner’s “potential” (apparently he was really good at swimming or some such bullshit).
In September 2019, just a few months after Turner’s release, Miller abandoned her anonymity via the publication of her memoir, Know My Name, which chronicles Miller’s personal and legal battles stemming from Turner’s assault. The book achieved immediate bestseller status, and has already garnered numerous accolades and awards in the few months since its publication.
Despite my interest in Miller’s story since she was known as Emily Doe, it was only recently that I picked up her memoir. A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law — an English teacher with her finger on the literary pulse — sent me a copy of the book as a quarantine read. The book, with its cool cerulean cover and flecks of gold meant to represent kintsugi, intrigued me — as did the smiling author photo on the back flap of the book jacket. The book has the energy of an artifact. I set aside the pile of reading on my nightstand and began her journey.
Coincidentally, I started Miller’s story just as my Criminal Law course was picking up its penultimate unit for the semester: Rape. The word looked so stark on the syllabus — it’s not a term you often use in a classroom setting. I thought back to my prior education, trying to remember when the concept had even been addressed. I recalled a high school health class lesson, and snickers emanating from the back of the room. In college I studied literature, and in the works of Shakespeare, the Greeks and the like, “rape” is used with a bludgeoning frequency, yet you are taught to isolate and compartmentalize such ideas as “poetic” terms and phrasing (have you guys re-read The Rape of Lucretia lately?).
My Criminal Law professor seemed keenly aware that many people had similar…