Society still demands that women respond ‘the right way’ to being assaulted. Netflix’s new miniseries Unbelievable chronicles the true story of ‘Marie’, an 18-year-old woman who was blindfolded, gagged, and raped at knifepoint in 2008. After Marie reports the incident to the police, her former foster mother Shannon questions her story: ‘She called and said, ‘I’ve been raped’. There was just no emotion. It was like she was telling me that she’d made a sandwich.’ Marie’s demeanour continued to be scrutinised by police until she was forced, under duress, to retract her report. In 2011, her rapist was caught and photographic evidence of Marie’s assault was found in his home.
My favourite passages in Know My Name are Miller reacting ‘the wrong way’ to sexual abuse. In Chapter 4, she recalls her experiences of street harassment the summer after she was assaulted by Turner (reminding us that one victim doesn’t equal one assault). ‘GET IN YOUR CAR ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY WHY WOULD I EVER DO THAT,’ she once shouted at a man who pulled over to her and offered her a ride while she was walking at night. When another man (there is always another man) pulled up to her and her friends on a different night, she screamed at him with her ‘chest open, ruthlessly’. She and her friends chased the car and one slapped the taillight. For me, this passage was equally empowering as it was terrifying – Miller tells her friends to ‘stop’ when she sees the rage on the man’s face.
These are brave anecdotes, because Miller reads internet comments about her case. Silly as it seems now, it never occurred to me that she would see the same online comments I saw – from the heartless who declared she was too old to be at a frat, to the hopeless that insisted something like this would never happen to them. Miller recalls the effect the comments had on her healing, trailing into her life like ants, ‘inside all my bowls and boxes and left-out spoons’. It is undoubtable that the darkest, dirtiest corners of the internet will use Miller’s stories in Know My Name against her: portray her as angry, unhinged, undeserving of justice, deserving of rape. This is why there couldn’t be any sarcasm, but it is also why her straightforward candour is all the more remarkable.