You Need To Read “Know My Name”
Everyone, young and old, male and female can benefit from this heart wrenching account of sexual assault in America
From the first line of Know My Name by Chanel Miller, I was punched in the gut. Her words hit deep inside, tugging at my soul, tearing at emotions and memories that have been hiding beneath the surface.
This is not simply an account of sexual assault or a cautionary tale. Know My Name is a glimpse into the core of trauma, the emotional journey of a survivor, and the horribly disappointing role of the criminal justice system. I listened to this on audiobook, spending 2 hours each day on my drive to and from work, often with tears streaming down my face as I sat at red lights, staring at the red glow of brake lights in front of me.
Chanel narrates the audiobook herself, and there is no word to describe the power of hearing this story in her voice. The pain, the fear, the hope, the disgust, the solitude, the longing, the strength. You can hear it all as if she’s sitting right there in front of you, your hands in hers, guiding you through your own pain, your own fears, your own trauma.
This is not just a book for victims. This is a book for everyone — men, women, teens, parents, young and old. It’s a deep and gut wrenching journey that will take hold of you from page one and not let go until long after you’ve finished reading. As a fellow survivor of sexual assault, Chanel was able to put into words what I’ve buried deep inside. She was able to unfurl the layers that I’ve built around my own experience, holding them carefully in her hands, her warmth and strength making me feel as though she was supporting me through this process. The unbelievable thing is that as a survivor who is still grappling with her own story, she is able to provide such powerful support even though we have never met and likely never will.
Throughout her account, it became glaringly apparent that this was not simply a tale of sexual assault. This is a deeply disturbing view of the criminal justice system and the empty promises that are often awarded to victims. It is a view of the terrifying power of large institutions to cover up, to strategically use PR to their advantage, and to avoid any actual responsibility when events like this one occur. It is a damming account of rape culture, of victim blaming, of she-should-have-done-this instead of he-should-never-do-that.
Chanel Miller is a hero in many ways, yet she should never have had to become one. She has given so many women a voice, a sense of power, and most importantly a comfort in companionship. But it’s a club that no one should have to be a part of, and certainly one that Chanel shouldn’t have to be the president of. Being thrust into the spotlight because a handsy teenage boy decided to take what he wanted should not have been her fate.
The story that should have been hers was taken, twisted, and ripped to shreds by that boy, the one who doesn’t even deserve to have his name in print, let alone his athletic prowess or intellectual success. In the wake of her assault, Chanel’s successes should have been celebrated, her promise and talents elevated to show the world what had been taken, what light had been snuffed. Instead, the focus was on his success, his talent, his could-have-been. What about her?
Yes, this is a book that everyone should read. Young men who have been taught their whole lives that they are above God and can get away with anything if they are just fast enough, smart enough, or athletically gifted enough should read this book. Young women, both victims and those lucky enough to not be victims should read this book. Parents — mothers and fathers who think that their sons would never, that their daughters are better.
This is a must read for an entire society, because it is the entire society that has allowed this to happen. It is an entire society that has built the institutions that simultaneously lift up the “promise” of attackers while burying the future of victims.
From start to finish, Know My Name is a master class in the ways in which America fails the victims of sexual assault. There are some notable victories as of late: Nassar, Cosby, Weinstein. But for the every day, non-celebrity related sexual assault, we very much still live in a world of secrets, shame, and victim blaming. There are far too many instances of “what was she wearing”, and not nearly enough “what caused him to think that was ok”.
I’m proud to know the name Chanel Miller, but I’m disappointed that we have to know her name for this reason. She is so much more than her assault, than the boy that attacked her, than the system that suppressed her experience and attempted to silence her. She is more than her trauma, so much more than what he did.
Everyone should know this story. Everyone should know her name.