Speaking Out and Building Bridges for Survivors
“You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.” —Chanel Miller
Last week, we had the honor of seeing Chanel Miller, author of “Know My Name“, speak to an audience of Santa Clara University students, faculty, and staff. Her memoir, which was selected as SCU’s 2022-2023 Community Read, chronicles her horrific rape by Brock Turner and the agonizing four years that followed. Not only did Turner never admit culpability for his attack, but our extremely flawed justice system put her on trial more than him, and ultimately sentenced him to a mere six months in county jail. She also tells the story of the compassion and strength of her family and friends, district attorney, and victim advocates; the bravery of two young men — Swedish graduate students — who chased Turner and restrained him until police arrived; acts of kindness from the police detective, nurses, and courthouse employees; and the outpouring of gratitude from people around the world for the victim impact statement Chanel read at Turner’s sentencing. What also shines through is the determination, courage, and resilience of Chanel herself, even when she felt at her most vulnerable.
When Chanel’s victim impact statement was published on BuzzFeed, it exploded — read over 15 million times in the first week alone. The overwhelming support for her words and the strength she gave to others are profound. She recounts a letter from a teen who found the courage to get out of bed in the morning for the first time in two years, another from a woman empowered to leave her abusive ex-husband, and countless others that poured in through the district attorney’s office. And yet, the fact that so many related to her story and found solace in knowing they are not alone is startling in itself. We live in a world where sexual assault occurs in staggering numbers, and it’s all too easy to become numb to its impact.
But the pervasiveness and universality of rape and sexual assault are unconscionable — from a college campus in an affluent California suburb to the metropolitan port city of Kolkata in India, from the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya to the tourist centers of the Philippines. According to UN Women, “Globally, an estimated 736 million women — almost one in three — have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their life (30 percent of women aged 15 and older).” Women are victimized by their assailant and then by the aftermath. They are minimized and invalidated, ignored and disbelieved.
Some of the social enterprises that Miller Center works with are also fighting back against sexual violence. Here, we highlight three that are working to protect victims and help them heal from sexual assault and exploitation.
Destiny Reflection is a social enterprise focused on disrupting the cycles of sexual exploitation and human trafficking in Kolkata, the cultural capital and seventh-largest city in India. The region has become one of South Asia’s largest human trafficking hubs, preying on the vulnerabilities of poor women, children, and families. Founded by Smarita Sengupta, Destiny Reflection trains and employs survivors of human trafficking to design and create beautiful textile products. What’s more, the company provides tailored support to survivors, including education, safe accommodation, economic empowerment, and a trusted community of friends and mentors. To date, the organization has supported over 1,300 people, and 98% of the survivors they work with have avoided revictimization.
Angela Odero founded Kenyan social enterprise Rio Fish in 2014 to tackle a practice known as “jaboya,” a word in the local Luo dialect that refers to “sex for fish.” Because fish are scarce in Kenya’s small section of Lake Victoria, male fishermen feel empowered to demand sex from women fish traders in exchange for an allocation of fish to sell. For many women, their livelihoods and ability to provide for their families are at stake — forcing them into submission to the jaboya system. Through sustainable tilapia farming, Rio Fish is not only increasing local food and nutrition security, but protecting women, restoring their dignity, and fostering their economic empowerment. The company continues to grow and innovate, providing safe access to fish for women traders and consumers.
Regenesys is an IT outsourcing firm that trains and employs human trafficking survivors in the Philippines. The company works with anti-trafficking organizations that have rescued hundreds of girls, women, and men from sex and labor slavery. Founded by Sam Dharmapala, its mission is to use modern digital supply chains to transform the lives of survivors and those who are highly at risk of exploitation by permanently breaking them out of the cycle of poverty. In addition to employment opportunities, Regenesys provides education, workplace counseling, and medical services to create a supportive training and work environment.
These are a few examples of social enterprises that are fighting sexual assault and exploitation head-on. Hundreds of others that we work with focus on women’s economic empowerment to increase women’s independence and improve their agency over their lives.
We are truly grateful for the strength of Chanel Miller and many others using their voices and their actions to combat sexual violence. These brave and committed people are making Chanel’s “until today!” possible for survivors — creating community, safe havens, and opportunities. Further, we dream of a world where sexual assault is unthinkable, where the culture of victim shaming is a thing of the past, and where the Brock Turners of the world are treated like the criminal predators that they are.
If you or someone you know is in need of support… In the United States, free and confidential support is available to survivors 24 hours a day through the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE (1.800.656.4673) or visit RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network). Internationally, the first global directory of support services for domestic abuse and sexual violence, Lila.help, was launched in 2022 by the Global Network of Women’s Shelters, UN Women, Meta, and other organizations.
To survivors everywhere:
“[Know] that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of ever day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you.” —Chanel Miller
Cover photo: Destiny Reflection
Photo 1: Destiny Reflection
Photo 2: Rio Fish
Photo 3: Regenesys