Face the Faceless

Content warning for sexual assault.

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Morgan is a senior here at UMBC pursuing a BA in Media and Communications major with minors in English and Cinematic Arts. If she’s not working at the Women’s Center you can find her watching Ghost Shark (2013) with her friends. 

You know who Brock Turner is. 

In January 2015, Turner sexually assaulted “Emily Doe.”. His face was splattered everywhere in the media. Sometimes it was his mugshot and other times it was the shining photo of him competing on Stanford’s swimming team. He’s a rapist but look, he’s an athlete! One year later, in 2016, you knew his face and you knew his name. Prosecutors recommended six years. He was sentenced to six months. He served ninety days. In a letter to the judge, his father stated that legal repercussions were a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” 

We were all forced to reckon with the reality that for many victims of sexual assault they get no real sense of justice, in court or otherwise. Emily Doe was a blank space and Brock Turner’s narrative was the one that filled it.

That was until Chanel Miller revealed herself to be the “Emily Doe” in the case of Turner vs. the People. Now, the case takes on a different face. Not only is Chanel Miller a survivor of sexual assault, but she is a woman of color, white and Chinese-American. I, along with countless others, had assumed she was white. It immediately became clear why there had only been a six-month sentence, why the judge was so quick to discredit her, and why her facelessness resonated so deeply. Chanel Miller, like many before her, was another woman of color who knew all too well the intersections of white supremacy, rape culture, and violence against women of color.

Her pain feels familiar in too many ways. Miller was violated in the same way that white men historically and continually perpetuate violence (especially sexual violence) against women of color over and over again. Take for instance, the expected sexual violence against black women by their white slave owners. This was normalized so much so that raping a black woman was not a crime for much of history. How can you violate your own property? Or the comfort women of Eastern Asia–women and girls forced into sex slavery by the Japanese Army around World War II. Women from China, Korea, the Philippines, and many other areas were objectified by the Japanese who believed themselves to be a superior people. For the Imperial Japanese Army, it was not just about sex; rather, it was about power and domination.

Rape is never about pleasure. It’s about power. Chanel Miller was incapacitated beyond the point of consent and Brock Turner knew that — despite what his testimony might tell you. He saw an opportunity to exercise his power as a white man and he took it, leaving lasting harm on a woman of color he doesn’t know. 

In the aftermath of rape and sexual assault, his mugshot was in every headline and on every news report. Chanel Miller, in identity and aftermath, remanded faceless left with her perpetrator serving three months in jail with a six-month sentence from a judge who was later was recalled partly due to the public’s accusations of the negligence in the People v. Turner case.

In court, Chanel read a particularly powerful impact statement that went viral. I read the whole thing in one breathless sitting when it was first published. I remember my heart beating out of the chest as I read and read through Chanel’s (then “Emily Doe’s”) words to Brock Turner. “I am no stranger to suffering.”

She continues, “[Turner] made me a victim. In newspapers, my name was ‘unconscious intoxicated woman’, ten syllables, and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am.”

Her words rang in my head and resonated with me. In leading Take Back the Night the past two years, sharing my own survivorship, and hearing the stories  of other women of color that sense of erasure feels reclaimed in a way.

 

It’s not about the Brock Turners anymore and their faces and all their harm. 

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This is a list of questions Miller was asked at Turner’s trial. Read through them. Every single one. 

How old are you? How much do you weigh? What did you eat that day? Well what did you have for dinner? Who made dinner? Did you drink with dinner? No, not even water? When did you drink? How much did you drink? What container did you drink out of? Who gave you the drink? How much do you usually drink? Who dropped you off at this party? At what time? But where exactly? What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What’ d you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? But what time did you do that? What does this text mean? Who were you texting? When did you urinate? Where did you urinate? With whom did you urinate outside? Was your phone on silent when your sister called? Do you remember silencing it? Really because on page 53 I’d like to point out that you said it was set to ring. Did you drink in college? You said you were a party animal? How many times did you black out? Did you party at frats? Are you serious with your boyfriend? Are you sexually active with him? When did you start dating? Would you ever cheat? Do you have a history of cheating? What do you mean when you said you wanted to reward him? Do you remember what time you woke up? Were you wearing your cardigan? What color was your cardigan? Do you remember any more from that night? No? 

Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in.

Sources:

 

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra

 

https://eji.org/history-racial-injustice-sexual-exploitation-black-women

 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dear-christine-blasey-ford-i-too-was-sexually-assaulted–and-its-seared-into-my-memory-forever/2018/10/03/2449ed3c-c68a-11e8-9b1c-a90f1daae309_story.html

 

https://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2019/09/24/chanel-miller-brock-turner-rape-emily-doe-book-review/2073117001/

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/24/opinion/chanel-miller-know-my-name.html

 

https://digitalcommons.law.umaryland.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1324&context=rrgc