For this year’s Women of the Year issue, we invited a few of our prior winners to revisit their honoring—and reflect on the work they’ve done since. Up next? 2016 Woman of the Year Chanel Miller. (Then known as Emily Doe.) In 2015, Miller was assaulted by Brock Turner, a student at Stanford. Later, she made headlines after her impact statement detailing her assault and subsequent trauma went viral. Earlier this year, Miller released a memoir, Know My Name, and shed her anonymity for the first time. In light of Miller coming forward, we asked her to open up about her journey to reclaiming her identity. Read on for Miller in her own words, and head here to buy your tickets for our annual summit and awards ceremony in New York City on November 10 and 11.
I am writing this piece four weeks before my name will be made public. Assault is often a two-part story. There’s the event itself, followed by the coming forward. Much of healing relies on how we are received when we decide to give voice to what happened to us.
In January 2015 I was sexually assaulted, found unconscious and half naked by the dumpsters on Stanford University’s campus. Two Swedish graduate students chased and tackled my attacker. In the beginning my anonymity was essential to self-preservation. Living as Emily Doe created the quiet and privacy I needed
to process and rebuild.
When my victim impact statement was released in June 2016, I was stunned by the support I received. I wanted that summer to mark my happy ending. To believe I was fully redeemed and made better. But I still wasn’t ready to disclose my identity. I was terrified, and there was a mass of feelings inside me that I needed to work out.
That November I watched Gabourey Sidibe, Freida Pinto, and Lena Dunham take the stage at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards to read my words and honor Emily Doe. They gave me a voice when I was still not ready to speak publicly. They lent their powerful presence so I could stay safe in my home. They invited depth into a space meant for celebration and did not for a single moment shy away from the hard parts. They shared the weight.
For the next three years I retreated into a quiet space to write Know My Name. Revisiting my story required reentering my past, and often it was upsetting. Some days I felt as though I would never progress—I kept ending up in the same emotional places I’d been before. But I had to remind myself that change is subtle, and that I am always inching forward. This applies to our culture too. I am often discouraged by the blaming and backlash that victims encounter. Yet,
even when we know how brutal society’s response can be, survivors are still emerging. Look at Aly Raisman and every gymnast who spoke, the fire in their chests. How could you not be moved by the California farmworkers, Christine Blasey Ford, Amanda Nguyen, Andrea Constand, Chessy Prout?
Wherever you may be in your journey, be patient with your healing. Healing happens slowly. And surviving doesn’t always mean fighting on the front lines. Sometimes being a survivor means drinking enough water and sleeping well at night. Just facing the day can require courage. Fight, but just as important, rest.
It’s society that needs to do more, to learn how to listen, to hold the space for survivors and hold perpetrators accountable.
Every survivor who came before me has taught me how to be ready. They have cleared a path. I have taken my time restoring, learning how to dig my tunnel. Now I proudly walk up it and join them.
Chanel Miller is a sexual assault survivor and the author of Know My Name, released this September.