“Why was she alone?”
That’s one in a series of misguided questions that has infuriated rape victim Chanel Miller, and many others in a similar position, ever since her attack became public knowledge.
To her, the remarks were statements disguised as questions, with a core message: The rape was, at least in part, her fault. They mostly came from strangers commenting on news articles about her case. But they frequently came from people she knew as well — and they were the ones hardest to hear.
She’d been at a Stanford University fraternity party drinking alcohol and blacked out towards the end of the night before she was raped behind a dumpster, just after 1am, on January 18, 2015.
Swedish graduate students Peter Jonsson and Carl Arndt were biking on Stanford’s campus when they saw 19-year-old Brock Turner, a former athlete, on top of a woman who wasn’t moving. They stopped him, chased him down, and then held him until police arrived.
Ms Miller had no recollection of the rape and learned what had happened to her through a combination of media and police reports.
“I just know he was found humping my unmoving body,” she said in her first interview about the ordeal that aired on 60 Minutes America over the weekend.
Ms Miller told the program that people would constantly ask her: “Why would you ever get that drunk?”
It was another question that compounded her frustrations about victim-blaming and reaffirmed her belief that few people, if anyone, understood what she’d endured.
“We have these sick minds in our culture that you deserve rape if you drink to excess,” she said.
“You deserve a hangover, a really bad hangover, but you don’t deserve to have somebody insert their body parts inside of you.
“Rape is not a punishment for getting drunk.”
Turner was convicted of three felony counts, including assault with the intent to rape, penetration of an intoxicated person and penetration of an unconscious person. The maximum sentence was 14 years. The case sparked outrage after the judge, Aaron Persky, hit the then-20-year-old with a sentence of six months — of which Turner only served three.
“A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” Judge Persky said. “I think he will not be a danger to others.”
For years, Ms Miller was known in the judicial system only as “Emily Doe”. It was only recently that she decided to publicly identify herself as Turner’s victim, and write a book about her experience, after having spent years compartmentalising the trauma.
She said she came to see Emily Doe, an alias used to protect her identity, as a different person altogether.
“She’s this abstract entity who belongs to the case,” Ms Miller said. “And I thought, ‘That’s not me. That’s not Chanel’.
“I did not want to own that body or occupy it. I didn’t want anything to do with that image. so I pretended it was not mine. It was Emily’s — this abstract entity that belongs to the case.”
But her strategy for dealing with the trauma wasn’t sustainable, according to Ms Miller.
“It’s a very fragmented way of living, and I thought I could do it,” she said. “But I quickly realised (I couldn’t).”
‘YOU DON’T KNOW ME, BUT YOU’VE BEEN INSIDE ME’
During Turner’s sentencing in court, Ms Miller delivered a powerful victim’s impact statement.
in which she described waking up in a hospital after the attack covered in dried blood and bandages with no recollection of what had happened.
“You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me,” she said in 2016.
“You are the cause, I am the effect. You have dragged me through this hell with you, dipped me back into that night again and again. You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did. If you think I was spared, came out unscathed, that today I ride off into sunset while you suffer the greatest blow, you are mistaken. Nobody wins. We have all been devastated, we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering.”
The 7000-word statement was published in full by news outlets around the world, including news.com.au, and was read aloud on CNN and by members of Congress on the House Floor to enter it into the national record.
Ms Miller received letters from women across the world, saying she inspired them to reveal their own stories of sexual assault.
Turner’s sentence ultimately sparked fierce debate about sexual assault and whether men from privileged backgrounds were treated more favourably by the US justice system.
“The punishment does not fit the crime,” said Local District lawyer Jeff Rosen after the sentence was announced.
“The sentence does not factor in the true seriousness of this sexual assault or the victim’s ongoing trauma. Campus rape is no different than off-campus rape. Rape is rape.”
Ms Miller’s case later inspired a change in California’s sentencing law, a hard alcohol ban on Stanford’s campus and the recalling of Judge Persky by Santa Clara County voters.
But the process of going through the court system to ensure justice was served was gruelling.
“Instead of investigating the crime that’s at hand, we interrogate the victim and go after her character and pick her apart and openly defile and debase her …” Ms Miller told 60 Minutes of sexual assault victims being cross-examined on the stand.
“Nobody can say, ‘That’s enough’. I can’t say, ‘Don’t talk to me like that’.”
Last year, an appeals court rejected Turner’s attempt to have his sexual assault and attempted rape felonies overturned. He will remain on the sex offenders’ list.