How Stanford Sex Assault Survivor Reacted to Her Attacker’s Lenient Sentence
Chanel Miller, who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner in 2015, revealed her identity before the publication of her first book
In a California courtroom in 2016, Chanel Miller read her victim impact statement to the man who sexually assaulted her, thinking it was certain he would go to prison for at least two of the six years the prosecutor requested.
But minutes after she made it through the statement without crying, the shocking verdict came in for former Stanford University student Brock Turner, who’d sexually assaulted Miller outside a fraternity party in 2015: Six months in jail.
“I couldn’t speak,” Miller writes in her debut book Know My Name, an exclusive excerpt of which appears in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.
“I felt a visceral anger toward myself for this dramatic outpouring, this batsh-t touchy-feely monologue. I’d failed.”
Miller’s statement punctured Turner’s defense that he was drunk. It also took aim at a society and justice system that stacks the deck against sex assault victims. After the verdict was read, she writes, “I bent my statement into smaller and smaller squares, hiding it in my purse.”
Ultimately, Turner served just three months in jail for the assault.
In explaining his decision, Judge Aaron Persky cited Turner’s youth, his intoxication, and the “severe impact” a long sentence would have on him. The sentence drew widespread criticism, leading California voters to recall Persky from his position in 2018.
After all Miller had been through, Turner’s light sentence was devastating.
• To read an exclusive excerpt of Chanel Miller’s book Know My Name, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.
“They tell you that if you’re assaulted, there’s a kingdom, a courthouse, high up on a mountain where justice can be found,” she writes. “Most victims are turned away at the base, told they don’t have enough evidence to make the journey. Some victims sacrifice everything to make the climb, but are slain along the way, the burden of proof impossibly high.
“I set off, accompanied by a strong team, until I made it to the summit, the place few victims reached. We’d gotten a guilty verdict. It was time to see what justice looked like. We threw open the doors, and there was nothing. It took the breath out of me.”
Miller was previously known publicly only as “Emily Doe,” but she revealed her identity earlier this month before the Sept. 24 publication of Know My Name.
PEOPLE has an exclusive video written and illustrated by Miller, which appears at the top of this post. An exclusive excerpt from the book also appears in this week’s issue of PEOPLE.
Miller tells PEOPLE, “While writing Know My Name, I was constantly drawing as a way of letting my mind breathe, reminding myself that life is playful and imaginative. We all deserve a chance to define ourselves, shape our identities, and tell our stories. The film crew that worked on this piece was almost all women. Feeling their support and creating together was immensely healing. We should all be creating space for survivors to speak their truths and express themselves freely. When society nourishes instead of blames, books are written, art is made, and the world is a little better for it.”
In the years since the assault, Miller says she worked on her book and rediscovered a sense of self-worth Turner took from her.
“I was slowly teaching myself self-compassion again,” she told PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “And yeah, realizing that I deserved to be treated much better.”
She added, “I thought I deserved time to cultivate myself and figure that out for myself before I could present myself to other people.”
The day after the verdict, a Buzzfeed reporter who’d seen Miller’ statement asked if the site could publish it. Miller agreed, half-heartedly, and it was published under the byline “Emily Doe.”
“I felt so worn out, and the statement seemed of such little consequence, that I didn’t care much where it ended up, as long as my name wasn’t on it,” she writes in her book.
But the searing, 12-page letter went viral, drawing praise as a critique of rape culture and a precursor to the #MeToo movement. Within 20 minutes, the post had racked up 15,000 views. Now, more than 20 million people had read it. The Buzzfeed reporter forwarded Miller the supportive emails that poured in.
“Almost every message I received opened with someone telling me the location of where they were crying,” she writes.
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