Rape victim’s brave memoir harrowing and compelling
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