I was definitely one of the thousands of people absolutely disgusted when the Stanford Sexual Assault sentencing was carried out but if I’m honest I knew very little about the case, and like most people I knew next to nothing about the survivor. In 2019, Chanel Miller bravely identified herself as the survivor of Brock Turner and released this book to tell her story. As it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month it seemed like a very appropriate time to pick this up and read it.
Despite my personal opinions of the case when the sentencing was carried out, these are some of the basic facts I didn’t know prior to reading her account:
- She wasn’t actually a Stanford University student
- There was actually eye witnesses to the assault
- His six month sentence was only really three months
It’s funny how we can become so opinionated about something that happens but actually know such limited information about it; although in this case my outrage was only enhanced by the knowledge I gained.
Chanel Miller was a graduate of Santa Barbara University, she only went to the fraternity party the night of the assault because her sister asked her to go and she wanted to spend some time with her. Yes she was drinking, yes she drank so much she experienced a black out, yes she was wearing a tight dress, but Chanel; as mentioned, was blackout drunk and therefore has no recollection of what happened between herself and Brock. It seems pretty clear to me that this would infer that she was not in any fit state to consent to any sexual encounters with anybody.
What really disturbed me, was that Chanel genuinely did not know she had been assaulted, and nobody actually explained to her. When she left the sexual assault clinic; after what can only be acknowledged as a devastating and intrusive process, she assumed from the limited knowledge that had been shared with her that she had been saved from a close call. She found out the specifics of her assault through an online article, literally at the same time as the rest of the world. I literally cannot even begin to imagine how that would feel.
As we know, the majority of cases of sexual assaults do not end with conviction; many do not even get to the point of charges. However, it is estimated that in the United States somebody is sexually assaulted once every 73 seconds; even worse every 9 minutes the victim is a child (RAINN, 2021), and one in four women in the UK have experienced sexual assault of some nature (The Guardian; 2021). Hearing the uncertainty and fear that Chanel faced as an outcome of the assault and the sheer cruelty of what she experienced throughout the trial is a harsh reminder of why survivors opt to not press charges even when their is ample evidence for a potential prosecution.
Then even more demoralising, when Chanel was one of the very few women who succeeds in achieving a conviction, such a short sentence was given! My heart broke many times throughout reading Chanel’s story, but I think one of the most relatable moments for me was when she got a call of the probation officer who she didn’t realise was asking Chanel’s opinion of how long he should be imprisoned for and her kindness and compassion was totally taken advantage of. And Stanford Universities actions were absolutely shocking, I was so disappointed.
This was not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination. But it was very informative. I love that Chanel provided a disclaimer at the start to acknowledge that this was her side of the story. I also thought it was a very understanding and empathetic depiction of the defence lawyers. However, nothing can take away the anger I feel at the injustice in the world for every individual who experiences something similar and is treated so poorly by the “justice” system in any country. How in this modern age we are still being accused of “asking for it” because of what we choose to wear, or how we do our makeup or the fact that we choose to get drunk? And why are the perpetrators of these crimes almost praised for doing very similar things?
I know so many people; including myself, who have experienced totally unacceptable sexual encounters either with strangers, friends, acquaintances, partners or family members. And I don’t actually know a single person who has ever pressed charges, we have all been encouraged to just brush it under the rug. It really makes me sad. And a little bit fearful that all of these people are out there in our communities having faced no consequences for their actions.
I feel that stories like Chanel’s are important to talk about. We will only improve our systems by challenging them and praising individuals who have the strength to not only live through these experiences once but then share them with the world!