Today we are pleased to host philosopher Karyn L. Freedman on our website, where she’ll be discussing her powerful memoir, One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery. Her book was voted one of the Globe and Mail’s 100 best books of 2014.
At once deeply personal and terrifyingly universal, Freedman weaves together her experience with the latest philosophical and psychological insights on what it means to live in a body that has been traumatized. She draws on recent theories of posttraumatic stress disorder and neuroplasticity to show how recovery is possible.
“Karyn L. Freedman’s terrifying and shattering story, One Hour in Paris, reveals the devastating truth about rape – that it is not confined to one terrible moment, but it determines and shapes a lifetime. If you want to understand why we need to do everything in our power to end rape, read this book.” Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues
Her Mentor Center: Karyn, can you describe your book?
Karyn Freedman: One Hour in Paris is a work of narrative nonfiction, written for a general reader. It tells a story that begins on the night of August 1, 1990, in Paris, France, when, over the course of one hour, my life was changed forever because of a violent rape and near death experience. That experience is the focus of the first chapter of the book and the following four chapters detail its aftermath, including my rapist’s trial and sentencing; my initial decade-long attempt to bury the experience (and the frustration of a body which wouldn’t comply); my daily struggles with PTSD; my time working through the trauma in psychotherapy; my experience as a volunteer in a rape clinic in Africa and meeting with other survivors; and finally, my return to Paris and to the scene of the crime, twenty years later.
HMC: Why did you decide to write this book?
Karyn: I wrote One Hour in Paris for two main reasons. I wanted to say something about what it is like to experience sexual violence, what it looks like and feels like from the inside. As a rape survivor, as someone who has suffered sexual violence but who has also has had the good fortune of a fruitful recovery, with all the supports that are necessary for that, I felt a certain duty to share what I had learned about that experience – about the impact that trauma has on individuals, on our bodies and on our minds. My hope, in writing the book, was that in focusing intimately inward I was able to relate something that others could connect with.
The second reason is political. I wanted to take part in a conversation about gender inequality and sexual violence against women. Although as a society we have moved forward on many important issues connected to women’s rights, sexual violence remains a dirty secret –woman are shunned for talking about it, ostracized from their families and communities, and blamed for what’s happened to them. We know that in certain parts of the world identifying as a rape survivor can be seriously dangerous, even fatal. For these reasons, we keep our experiences of sexual violence secret, which obscures how ordinary it is: worldwide, 1 in 3 women experience sexual violence. It is important to acknowledge that sexual violence against women and girls is one of the most pressing social justice issues of our time.
HMC: you are a philosopher by profession. How is that reflected in the book?
Karyn: The book is a memoir, but one of its distinctive features is that, throughout, I interweave my story with philosophical, psychological, political, and neuroscientific reflections on its central themes of gender inequality and trauma and recovery. So the book moves back and forth from the personal to the broadly theoretical and philosophical.
HMC: In the book you make the claim that it is important for survivors to talk about their experiences with sexual violence. Do you think that women have obligation to speak publicly about their experiences?
Karyn: Absolutely not. In our current cultural climate, in which it can be unsafe for women to speak out about their experiences of sexual violence and in which they are made to feel responsible for the acts of violence perpetrated against them, there is no moral or legal obligation on women to go to the police, press charges, testify in court, or even tell their family and friends.
HMC: Still, in your book you claim that there are some excellent reasons for women to talk about their experiences of violence. What are those reasons?
Karyn: There are two key benefits that we see when women tell their stories. First, as rape survivors, talking about our traumatic experiences can help make whole our personal identities and therefore can play an important role in the healing process. Talking about what’s happened to us helps to erase the shame. Every time we tell our story we unburden ourselves, and we let the world know that we refuse to be blamed, and that what has happened to us is not our fault.
Second, unless we tell our stories, we run the risk of seeing sexual violence as a series of unrelated incidents, someone’s bad luck, something that is going elsewhere, and that happens to other people. We end up portraying sexual violence as a personal problem, in other words, instead of a social problem – one that exists in our communities and that is the result of the way that societies are structured and resources and power distributed.
HMC: Have you heard from many other survivors since you published One Hour in Paris? What has that been like for you?
Karyn: Yes, I’ve heard from many women (and even some men), and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Because of all the reasons I mentioned above, many women who experience sexual violence don’t tell anyone what’s happened to them – in fact neither did I, not for ten years, as I discuss in the book. One result of that secrecy is that women end up feeling isolated in their experiences. Learning that there are other women out there who have been through what you have been through, who know exactly what it is like, and who feel just what you feel, well, that experience of solidarity can be very important. I know that from personal experience. Since the book was published last spring I have received emails and handwritten letters and cards from women who have written to thank me for the book and also share with me their own stories, for which I am both honored and grateful.
HMC: Thanks, Karyn, for joining us here today. Now, readers, it’s your turn to weigh in with your own questions or comments through “Leave a Reply” below. You can learn more about Karyn on her website and get your own copy of One Hour in Paris here.