About the courage it takes to stand forth as a victim
By MARTYNA BURYLO | March 12, 2020
Cover photo: Chanel Miller with Interviewers Zoé Gáspár and Carli Koojiman on UvA Roeterseiland Campus // Courtesy of Room for Discussion
Disclaimer: Article containing themes of sexual violence.
Last week, the students from Roeterseiland Campus at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) were bustling in nervous anticipation, awaiting the newest Room for Discussion interview; Chanel Miller. In the interview, she opened up about her sexual assault, ranging from the incident itself to the trial to her life now, five years later.
Last Wednesday, the interviewers Carli Kooijman and Zoé Gáspár, second year PPLE students at UvA, sat opposite the writer, Chanel Miller, who’s story many of the audience members have been following since 2015. Five years ago, Miller made the headlines as “Emily Doe” (choosing to keep her identity anonymous), someone who had been sexually assaulted in the Stanford University campus. The victim impact statement Miller published on Buzzfeed was read over 11 million times in 4 days. Additionally, Washington Post named her 2019 memoir, “Know My Name”, as one of the top 10 books of 2019. As a result, Miller is often credited for sparking national discussion on court cases of sexual assault victims and their treatment.
When inquired if the term “victim” or “survivor” resonated more with how she felt, Miller brought a very important topic to the forefront of the discussion. She said, “I’m okay with the word victim, because it is not wrong. It’s important to see that at times I was very vulnerable and I was under attack, and I did need help. It’s not always about surviving and being strong.”
In this modern society, many of us women champion our strengths and fight for equality as the strong-willed feminists we identify ourselves to be. When problems arise, this image of ourselves might make it harder to recognize ourselves as a victim, as that would make us “one of those women”. Miller talked about how hard it was to reconcile the image of herself with what had in fact had happened to her. She strongly urged the audience to stop drawing a line between themselves and victims, as this implicitly led to victim-blaming for the situations they had found themselves in.
Back in November, 2019, to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Amsterdam UNICEF student team tackled the uncomfortable topic of domestic violence. They opened the stage to a panel of three female speakers and several emotionally loaded artistic performances, which all explored the notions of what it implies to be a victim of various forms of domestic violence.
The anti-partner violence activist, Tessel ten Zweege, bravely shared her own story with the audience and condemned this paradox, in which strong women were ashamed to be vulnerable. As a feminist herself, she felt uncomfortable coming forward with her story, as the image of a victim did not seem to resonate with how she was on a daily basis. However, at the event, Tessel ten Zwegge highly advocated the value of writing down one’s experiences and sharing them verbally with others. “Speaking into existence,” sharing, even with oneself, may be the first step to admitting to the unfortunate situation. It is not only the first step to healing and changing the circumstances, but also to creating a safer space for others in your communities to step forward in. Conversations, stories and the act of sharing weaves a web of societal awareness.
Similarly, Miller’s narrative on the American society hailed the need for us to “collectively create spaces where you do feel like that if you were to come forwards you would be believed and heard, instead of judged and shunned back to your corner.” She particularly drew attention to the need for this space to exist at universities, which interviewers Zoé and Carli addressed in their introductory statements.
Looking back to 2019, female suffrage had its 100th anniversary, or 20th Lustrum for our Dutch readers. In celebration of this milestone, Liza Mugge, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam who believes the #MeToo movement is yet to effectively infiltrate the Dutch society, had a message for us; “You, as young people, have to make use of that [the anniversary]. This is the time to put your cards on the table. We need activists. Politicians need activists.” Referencing the need for not only grassroots initiatives but top-down policy change which reflect the will of bottom-up needs. “We have to recognize that domestic and sexual violence happens in our own communities”. From theory to reality, from looking outwards to inwards; “that is how you wire desire for change”.
Miller’s courage and storytelling sparked world-wide discussion, fueled the #MeToo movement in the United States, and has brought hope for legal and societal change. So perhaps it is time to take a step back to analyze our own actions, relations and community – to see if we can take a step forward towards that proactive progress in establishing a safer space for each other.
Agathe Cherbit-Länger, chairwoman of Stichting Our Bodies Our Voice, recommended letting your friends know you are there to support them, however to take appropriate measures as you may not be a professional.
The UvA offers support with cases that happen within the context of university and its students, information which can be found at www.uva.nl/socialsafety.
Externally to the UvA, the Sexual Assault center can be reached at 0800-0188.
The Hotline for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention can be reached at 0900-0113.
Veiling Thuis and Blijf group can be reached respectively through 0800-2000 and 088 234 24 50, for help and information in cases of domestic violence.