Chanel Miller became ensnared in a national story eight years ago, when she was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner outside a frat party at Stanford University. Initially known as “Emily Doe”, attorneys and media outlets dictated the events of her traumatic night … until Miller decided to emerge from the shadows, revealing her identity and taking control of the narrative — and her life.
Miller wrote a powerful impact statement, viewed by 11 million people online, followed by the memoir, “Know My Name”, which is a New York Times Best Seller. She was named one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 and a Time Next 100 honoree, and appeared on TV shows like “60 Minutes” and “The Daily Show”.
“Just choosing to exist every day, even when the feelings are unbearable, that’s everything,” she told the audience at The Center for Family Justice’s 26th annual Speaking of Women fundraiser, held at The Waterview in Monroe Wednesday.
Miller, who was the keynote speaker, held everyone’s rapt attention while sharing her inspirational story at the sold-out event, which was also live-streamed at Sacred Heart University.
“My story never changed,” she said. “I told it in a courthouse and the reception was cold. It felt like there was no apathy, like there was active hate in that environment. I felt shame over the decisions I made. Here, it’s the same story and everyone is quiet, like you’re taking it all in. You’re willing to bear full witness and take a piece of it home with you, so I will leave lighter.”
After Miller spoke, she was interviewed by Anna Zap, co-host of the nationally-syndicated “Anna & Raven Show” on Star 99.9, who served as master of ceremonies.
The event co-chairs were Sarah Cwikla, Sofia De Carvalho and Patti Masarek.
“We’re really excited to have sold out the show,” Cwikla said.
This year’s theme is the prevention of sexual violence on college campuses.
“There’s an art exhibition with mannequins showing what victims were wearing when they were assaulted, to show it doesn’t matter — and shouldn’t matter — what you wear,” Cwikla said.
Breaking the cycle of abuse
Staff and volunteers of the Center for Family Justice work to break the cycle of abuse and violence – domestic, sexual and child – by providing services that create hope, restore lives and drive social change through education and community collaboration.
The center serves residents in Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford and Trumbull, working closely with law enforcement, state and municipal officials and the schools.
On Wednesday, Debra Greenwood, CFJ’s president and CEO, thanked Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza for the continued cooperation and support for CFJ programs by Monroe public schools.
“We have to break the intergenerational pattern of abuse and teach our youth about healthy relationships, and hopefully one day we’ll be out of business,” Greenwood said.
Monroe Police Chief Keith White and several of his officers attended Speaking of Women, along with chiefs from other towns the center serves. Greenwood thanked all police officers for their efforts to keep families safe.
Monroe First Selectman Ken Kellogg, who was among the town and state officials at the luncheon, took a turn at the podium.
“Words alone cannot do justice and convey the way the staff and volunteers of the Center for Family Justice touch lives, not only in Monroe, but the rest of the region: Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Stratford and Trumbull,” Kellogg said. “We thank you for the difference you make for our families.”
Kellogg said expanded programing, Pathways to Hope and a “state-of-the-art” safe house turns victims into survivors.
CFJ offers campus outreach, counseling and court advocacy services.
Greenwood shared her enthusiasm for the positive impact Camp Hope America-Bridgeport, a summer camp for former victims of abuse under age 18, has on young people still recovering from trauma; and for Empower House, a safe house offering a wide variety of support, providing one-stop-shopping for clients.
Now called Patti’s Place, the facility, which is three times larger than the current safe house, should open by early 2024.
‘It’s on us’
Greenwood introduced Gary MacNamara, a retired Fairfield police chief and the current executive director of Public Safety & Government Affairs at Sacred Heart University, who leads CFJ’s White Ribbon Campaign.
While the majority of perpetrators of domestic violence are men, Greenwood emphasizes that most men are not abusers. The White Ribbon Campaign gets men and boys involved in putting an end to domestic violence.
MacNamara said they’ve always encouraged men and boys not to be offenders, but are now taking it a step further.
“We realized being a non-offender is not enough,” he said. “One-third of interpersonal violence occurs when a bystander is there.”
When recognizing a harmful situation, MacNamara said men and boys must intervene. “You have to act,” he said. “It’s not okay to do nothing. If it’s not on us, who is it on? The simple answer is it’s on us.”
During Wednesday’s luncheon, Rob Fried, founding partner at Bridgewater Associates and an avid supporter of CFJ, was recognized as the 2023 Speaking of Women Distinguished Honoree Recipient.
A talented musician, Fried plays with Band Central, a philanthropic organization. A video of his song, “Moving On” was shown onscreen.
“I think it’s something everyone is dealing with,” he said of the song. “It’s universal that we all have to move on from relationships that are not working. It could be somebody you thought you had a lot in common with and you realize your values are different. It could be a divorce or the end of a business partnership.”
Speaking of Women also featured a surprise speaker, Miss Connecticut Gina Carloto, who shared her story of seeing her late mother abused by her father growing up, and being inspired by her mother’s community advocacy years later. She spoke of the empowerment of women.
Among the top event sponsors was M&T Bank, whose executive vice president and head of commercial banking for Connecticut, Frank P. Micalizzi, introduced Miller as the keynote speaker.
Looking for the good
Chanel Miller expressed her gratitude to the police officers, nurses and Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson, the Swedish graduate students who rescued her on the night of the assault.
No longer an “Emily Doe”, Miller expresses herself through art and standup comedy.
“In the year after the assault, I was always looking for signs that the world is good,” she said, adding there are good things people can use as footholds while navigating the darker periods of life.
However, the trauma from that fateful night can still be felt.
Miller recalled a time when an old man sat on a bench beside her. He cut a red bell pepper and offered her a piece. Immediately, negative thoughts rushed into Miller’s head.
Is he going to stab me with the knife? Did he do something perverted to the pepper, so now he can watch me eat it?
Then she thought, “oh, what if he just wants to offer me nourishment?”
Miller accepted the slice of pepper.
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