Friday, September 27, 2019

Should Rape Victims Name Themselves?

I did not intend to return to the story of Emily Miller. As you recall Ms. Miller was raped by one Brock Turner outside of a Stanford University frat party. Turner was tried and convicted… and received a sentence that many felt was far too lenient. The court and the media had carefully protected Miller’s identity, the better not to allow the world to define her as a crime victim.

Miller herself thought otherwise. She wrote an account of her experience in a new book, thereby identifying herself and inviting people to envision her in appalling scenes.

I applauded the court for having found a way to protect the identities of rape victims, because this will make it far easier for many of them to come forth. And yet, Miller seems to believe that the victim should be named.

As does New York Times commentator Lisa Ko. I am revisiting the case because Ko’s comment passes as wisdom these days. It is wrong-headed to an extreme:

Ms. Miller writes: “I am not Brock Turner’s victim. I am not his anything. I don’t belong to him. I am also half Chinese. My Chinese name is Zhang Xiao Xia, which translates to Little Summer.” In naming herself, Ms. Miller takes control of the narrative on her own terms and opens up more space for others who choose to do so. She is no longer anonymous, and the power of this specificity lies in its creation of an even stronger sense of solidarity.

Miller does not take control of the narrative. She does not even take possession of it. She casts herself as a character within the narrative, one who suffered an unspeakable indignity. Had she remained anonymous, her identity would have been protected. She would not have been shown to be a rape victim. Perhaps the sense of solidarity with other victims is a consolation, but Miller is going to find it impossible to shake the association with the rape. The point is not to belong to a group of rape victims, but to overcome the crime, to put it behind her. It's called healing.

Now, Miller will never be able to put the rape behind her, because everyone will know about it. Some will commiserate with her. Precious few will be able to see her as other than a victim. She has chosen this fate for herself, for political reasons, because she  believes it will reduce the number of rapes. So she is martyring herself for a cause.

And yet, as noted in a prior post, the best thing we can do to prosecute rape more effectively is to protect victim anonymity. With her appalling political gesture Miller has eliminated one of the rationales for the new policy. She is saying that it is a good and positive thing to be exposed as a rape victim. Ko concurs, and we are all worse for it.

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