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Monday, December 23, 2019

A Highly recommended Memoir and Expose of a Dysfunctional Legal System

I was compelled to write this book review. I sent a copy to Amazon. It was declined for publication because I used a  four letter word (actually twice) that was germane to the experience, values  and the art of the author. I share it here instead......This memoir has nothing to do with occupational therapy and everything to do with social justice. However, occupational therapists are trained to heal and help others find the best quality of life after trauma. People who are victimized by injustice experience trauma. The author-a brilliant writer and social commentator was destined to be a literary success. She just shouldn't have had to suffer sexual assault and the subsequent legal nightmare along this devastating journey.   

Brett-Brock or Brock-Brett…either way it sounds like a pairing of tough, macho, bro-rapists. At least, that is my first thought as I started reading Chanel Miller’s insightful, albeit painful memoir Know My Name. I was searching my digital library when the title jumped out at me, eliciting a twinge of guilt that the story of a pimple-faced, Princeton, freshman sexually assaulting an unconscious woman then known as Emily Doe and leaving her like a pile of old clothes behind a dumpster had faded from my consciousness. It was time to correct my “bad” and read this book. I highly suggest that you do, too. Miller creates an emotional, eye-opening, life-transforming roller coaster of information and feelings about what it means to be raped by a stranger and assaulted again by a patriarchal legal system.

Brett Kavanaugh only earned a small mention as Miller encapsulates the present-day lack of legal consequences that give rapists the green light.  Brett was once a young Brock- raised with the wealth and privilege that encouraged him to seek power, cruel power over others with no consequences. (A small aside- Fred Rogers also grew up with wealth, privilege and loving parents who taught him right from wrong. It doesn’t have to be this way. )  Brett enjoyed his entitlements to the best schools, fraternities, unlimited parties in the magnificent homes of country club peers and had no qualms about trying to rip a bathing suit off a younger teenage family friend hanging out downstairs. She erroneously thought she could safely find her way to the bathroom. Today Dr. Ford, like Chanel Miller- is a beacon of hope and courage.

Chanel Miller also assumed she was safe at a frat party her younger sister and friends were attending. Princeton was the familiar, tree lined campus where local children like Chanel grew up riding bikes and taking enrichment courses. The 22-year-old recent college graduate wanted spend time with her sister and coincidentally ended up at this fateful party. The girls were just being girls. They let their guard down, got silly, drank too much, laughed a bit loudly, danced on chairs and had fun as young women should be able to safely do.

Readers, especially women will relate to being young and carefree and having their innocence stolen. I was one of those young women in the early 1970s and consider myself extremely fortunate to not be a rape statistic. It was pure luck that I was never violated, not even when skinny-dipping in college and a total stranger approached me with an invitation to “fuck”, not even when hitch-hiking across the country with friends and drivers asked if we wanted a good time and not even when a smiling Tony Perkins Doppelganger beckoned me to come closer to his car while he held his erection.  There are no actions a woman can take that justifies sexual assault. That is the crux of this memoir.

I repeat- it was sheer luck that the Brocks and Bretts in America have never succeeded in assaulting me. Miller described the challenges of walking down the urban streets of Providence, Rhode Island trying to exercise her right to fresh air and freedom while navigating the dangers of entitled male strangers. Having grown up in New York City I learned at a young age to avoid eye contact, dodge the land mines of cat calls, men grabbing my bicycle seat, rubbing next to me on crowded subways or demanding a smile as I walked down the street. I learned at a young age that sneakers are my best defense and not to hesitate calling my mom to pick me up. I didn’t grow up feeling safe as girls and young women deserve and I’ve carried this baggage for 65 years. Chanel Miller is dragging a heavier load but has the grit to use it wisely.

Chanel being the decent, observant, brilliant and courageous young woman she was raised to be did not want Brock to become so angry that he would turn to violence.  Miller knows that angry disgruntled, humiliated, entitled, white men (and they are often white) have been turning to mass shootings with increasing frequency. Chanel requested that Brock receive therapy while imprisoned. The judge forgot to inform her that therapy was only offered in the community jail, not in the long-term prison system and jail had a maximum sentence time of 6 months. As a result of this misunderstanding or perhaps willful withholding of information, Brock served a mere 90 days including the night spent in jail when arrested.

I wouldn’t be sharing my thoughts about the Bretts and Brocks if Chanel Miller had not touched our hearts with her victim impact statement that evolved into her memoir. From page one, I was stunned by her prodigious literary talent. Miller is the daughter to an accomplished Chinese author, majored in literature and was destined to materialize her genius in one way or another. Telling her story is both a therapeutic act of self-care and a condemnation of the persecution sexual assault victims are forced to endure. 

I don’t want readers to avoid this memoir because Chanel’s pain and cruel treatment from the legal system are so upsetting. We have all read Ann Frank’s Diary in middle school, now it’s time to add Know My Name to the high school curriculum.  I have read several of the hundreds of Amazon reviews of this book. Many are rape survivors who are grateful that Chanel gave voice to the victims. Miller gives us reasons to maintain hope-  Judge Persky (who gave Brock a slap on the wrist sentence) was recalled after thousands of angry constituents signed a petition drive.  Bill Cosby is behind bars, the We-too movement is growing if not thriving and 2 Swedish men who saved Chanel proved that right can trump wrong. Chanel Miller’s book is part of a movement.

America has elected a president who thinks it’s OK to brag about grabbing pussy (his words) because he is rich and powerful. The unprecedented 2018 election of women to Congress gives us hope.  Dr. Christine Ford is racking up awards for her bravery and patriotism. However, there’s still so much work to be done! Thank-you for reading this lengthy book review. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and make America safe for everyone regardless of gender, sexual preference, race, religion and so on. Follow Chanel Miller’s lead and use your voice!     


Unknown said...

Excellent review placing Chanel Miller's traumatic experience with Rapist Brock and our broken patriarchal and racist legal system in the context of the Me Too Movement.

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