Chanel Miller is publishing a book about surviving her sexual assault at the hands of Stanford University student Brock Turner in 2015, as first reported by the New York Times. The case rocked California politics more than a year before #MeToo swept the internet, but until today, the world only knew Miller anonymously as “Emily Doe.” With the announcement of her memoir, Know My Name, the 27-year-old author is making the decision to make her identity public.
On January 18, 2015, Turner assaulted Miller outside a fraternity party while she was unconscious. Two Swedish graduate students found Turner on top of Miller behind a dumpster, chased him down when he ran away, and restrained him until police arrived. Turner was found guilty on three counts of felony sexual assault in March 2016. He’s a registered sex offender and could have served a maximum 14 years in prison for his crimes, but in a move soundly damned by voters and the legal community, Santa Clara County Judge Aaron Persky went easy on Turner. He got six months in jail, of which he served three, plus three years probation.
Turner was 19 at the time of the assault and a star athlete on the Stanford swim team. Many thought he was headed for the Olympics. Judge Persky, who The Guardian identified as a Stanford alumnus, made it a point to opine that Turner had no “significant” prior offenses and had been affected by the intense media coverage of the case. He clearly reasoned a promising champion swimmer had more to lose by going to jail than a young woman did by being raped. “There is less moral culpability attached to the defendant, who is [...] intoxicated,” Judge Persky reasoned. Turner’s father, on the other hand, thought any jail time was too harsh a sentence for his son. In his statement read in court, Dan Turner argued that a young athlete’s shattered dreams were “a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
Turner’s lenient sentence, however, enraged the public. Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen wrote in a statement, "The punishment does not fit the crime. The predatory offender has failed to take responsibility, failed to show remorse, and failed to tell the truth. The sentence does not factor in the true seriousness of this sexual assault or the victim’s ongoing trauma. Campus rape is no different than off-campus rape. Rape is rape. And I will prosecute it as such."
In 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law requiring mandatory minimum sentences in sexual assault cases. The letter from “Emily Doe” was read aloud on CNN and the floor of the US House of Representatives that same year. In 2018, Judge Persky was recalled by California voters — the first time they’d taken action at the ballot box in that way in more than 80 years.
Though the heartbreaking words Miller read at Brock’s sentencing hearing went viral after Buzzfeed published them in 2016, her pain remained anonymous. With the publication of her book, however, she is stepping into her public identity.
The publisher of Know My Name told the Times she leaped at the chance to help tell Miller’s story. She said she knew she wanted to read more work by “Emily Doe” as soon as she read the victim impact statement from the Stanford case in 2016. “I just remember being in my kitchen and reading this incredible, riveting piece of work,” Andrea Schulz, the editor in chief of Viking, said. When Miller was finally ready to share her side of the assault and its aftermath, Schulz said she “jumped out of [her] chair to acquire it. It was just obvious to me from the beginning what she had to say and how different it was and how extraordinarily well she was going to say it.”
As sagely pointed out by Roxane Gay, however, even though Miller’s identity is out in the open, she’s still being upstaged by her rapist, a teenage golden boy before he became a convicted felon. A tweet posted by 60 Minutes on Wednesday promoting an upcoming interview with Miller read, “She has been known to the world as ‘Emily Doe,’ the sexual assault victim of Stanford swimmer Brock Turner. Now she’s revealing her name and face.”
Gay took issue with 60 Minutes calling Turner the “Stanford swimmer,” not “convicted rapist” or “registered sex offender,” and burying the bravery it took Miller to reveal her identity and risk fresh trauma in the backlash her memoir might attract.
Turner, after all, is legally required to inform his neighbors and associates of his status as a felon who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman. The least the media can do, as we help Miller share her story, is call her attacker by his rightful legal moniker.