Rape vic­tim’s brave mem­oir har­row­ing and com­pelling

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - STACEY MAY FOWLES

I have a mem­ory of my­self at 17 sit­ting on the floor of my bed­room in my par­ents’ home, tear­ing to pieces a jour­nal I kept af­ter I was sex­u­ally as­saulted. I re­call rip­ping out the pages one by one, de­stroy­ing the words writ­ten on them, un­til a pile of paper sur­rounded me on the car­peted floor. It was as if I was try­ing to oblit­er­ate the act by de­stroy­ing my own doc­u­men­ta­tion of its aftermath. In fact, I re­mem­ber that day more vividly than I do the as­sault it­self. I re­mem­ber sit­ting cross-legged on the floor, cry­ing the en­tire time I tore up those pages, un­aware of the decades of trauma re­cov­ery that were to fol­low.

Karyn L. Freed­man has sim­i­lar mem­o­ries. On Aug. 1, 1990, in an apart­ment in Paris, she was vi­o­lently raped at knife­point by a stranger. She was a 22-year-old Cana­dian tour­ing Europe, and within an hour, a sin­gle man al­tered the tra­jec­tory of her life. Ev­ery­thing from that mo­ment on would be coloured by the hor­ror of the day.

She too de­stroyed her jour­nals af­ter­wards, the en­tries haunt­ing her. “I sim­ply could not bear to reread them,” she writes. “I had been psy­cho­log­i­cally crip­pled by the trauma of the rape and this was trans­par­ent in most en­tries …” She too tore the pages to pieces, and then burned them in a garbage can, “just in case the mes­sage wasn’t clear enough.”

In Canada, more than half of the fe­male pop­u­la­tion has ex­pe­ri­enced at least one in­ci­dent of Karyn L. Freed­man Free­hand Books phys­i­cal or sex­ual vi­o­lence since the age of 16. In the U.S. there is a rape re­ported ev­ery six min­utes. One could make a life­long project of ex­plain­ing what the re­sult­ing suf­fer­ing truly feels like and never suc­ceed, but with One Hour in Paris, Freed­man has come close. It’s taken her more than 20 years to ar­rive at a point where she could write of the as­sault, and of the le­gal, psy­cho­log­i­cal and in­ter­per­sonal aftermath.

In her brave and com­pelling mem­oir, the pro­fes­sor of phi­los­o­phy uses her keen in­tel­lect and in-depth knowl­edge of trauma to un­ravel the com­plex­ity of rape, and to make sense of the im­print it has made on her life, and on the lives of so many oth­ers.

“Over the course of a mar­riage, a child­hood, a date, or one hour, sur­vivors of sex­ual vi­o­lence learn cer­tain odi­ous facts about the pos­si­bil­i­ties of hu­man be­hav­iour, and their world view is shat­tered,” Freed­man writes. “Hav­ing suf­fered a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence, we might find our­selves forced, on pain of con­sis­tency, to give up some of our deeply held be­liefs about hu­man na­ture.”

One Hour in Paris not only painfully de­tails what hap­pened that day, but fol­lows Freed­man on a long road to self-dis­cov­ery — from that apart­ment in Paris, to a trauma re­cov­ery cen­tre in Toronto, to a rape clinic in Africa, and fi­nally back to the same apart­ment many years later. It is, in all hon­esty, an im­pos­si­bly dif­fi­cult read — one you must steel yourself to en­dure.

There are ex­ten­sive pas­sages on how, post rape, Freed­man’s body be­came in­dif­fer­ent to logic, ex­ist­ing in a state of near-con­stant hy­per­vig­i­lance in even the safest of spa­ces.

Life for Freed­man — like it does for many sur­vivors — be­comes a se­ries of rolling panic at­tacks, the frus­tra­tion of ir­ra­tional think­ing, strained sex­ual re­la­tion­ships, and a strug­gle with a new iden­tity as vic­tim. She not only re­lays the bi­o­log­i­cal re­sponses that make up her PTSD di­ag­no­sis, but opens up about what it re­ally means to live day-to-day with their bur­den. This is re­portage from the front lines of re­cov­ery that’s so of­ten lost in dis­cus­sions of rape cul­ture, in our protest cries of “no means no,” in our end­less de­bates on what rape is, and how it should be pre­vented and pun­ished.

One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Re­cov­ery

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