Men often email Chanel Miller asking her to send a note to their girlfriend who enjoyed her 2019 memoir, “Know My Name,” but the author said that she has a better gift in mind.
“Sure, [your girlfriend] would love a note,” Miller said at a Thursday talk. “But what they would love even more is to come home and see you with the book, marked up and noting a line that you really liked.”
Miller said that she wishes “more dudes” read her book, which details her experience as a sexual assault survivor in the highly publicized 2015 case involving then-Stanford University freshman Brock Turner.
Miller spoke to the Class of 2024 Thursday evening, after Duke mailed every first-year her book over the summer as part of the annual Common Experience summer reading program. The event was also open to other community members with Duke email addresses who RSVPed.
The event was held on Zoom and conducted as a conversation led by junior Eden Schumer and April-Autumn Jenkins, gender violence intervention services coordinator at the Duke Women’s Center. It was co-sponsored by New Student Programs and the Delta Gamma Lectureship on Values and Ethics.
Miller said that during the case, People v. Brock Turner, she felt like she was the one on trial.
In the courtroom, Miller said that she felt too overwhelmed and disoriented to register what was said around her. But when she reviewed the court transcript, Miller said, she saw in each of the defense attorney’s questions that he had a strategy.
“It was about manipulation and eroding [my] confidence,” she said.
Miller recalled feeling the need to maintain a certain persona throughout the trial, one that proved herself to be not “crazy” to avoid the jury and media further doubting her story.
During the trial, Miller said that she spoke softly and resisted losing her temper in the courtroom. She also covered the small tattoo on her wrist and wore blouses from Express.
From questions about what she was wearing the night of the assault to media reports about Turner’s achievements as an All-American swimmer, Miller said that she felt her story and legitimacy were constantly undermined.
“The courts say that the victim is innocent until proven guilty, so we should assume that the witness is honest until proven otherwise,” Miller said.
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Miller said that her younger sister Tiffany, who was at the party where Turner found Miller on the night of the assault, gave her the strength to continue fighting.
After the defense lawyers cross-examined Tiffany, she came home and quietly sat on the couch, Miller said.
“I can see her beating herself up and internally crumbling, taking on all of this blame and all of this pain that I was feeling,” Miller said.
Miller described the rage that she felt when she saw how the incident affected her sister, explaining that the trauma of sexual assault goes beyond the immediate victim.
“When a victim goes down, it’s not a single blow,” Miller said. “It ripples out to every single person who loves her, and that pain is incalculable.”
Miller drew a contrast between Turner and Philando Castile, a Black man who was fatally shot at a traffic stop by a police officer in 2016. The officer, who fired at Castile seven times at close range and hit him five times, was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter.
Unlike Turner, Castile never had the time or money to tell his side of the story, Miller said.
“I want everyone to pay attention to who is being cherished and who is seen as disposable, who is given the benefit of the doubt without having to work for it at all and who is constantly doubted,” Miller said.
Miller also said sexual assault stems from a culture of disrespecting women. Combating it starts from everyday actions, she said, like calling out friends when they make a derogatory comment.
“Your silence becomes your approval, and that’s signaling to someone that when they do a little something that’s inappropriate, you will look away,” Miller said. “So they think if they do something that’s more inappropriate, you’ll also look away.”