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Speaking out

Sharing stories a source of strength after rape

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Former Winnipegger Karyn Freedman's new memoir is a brilliant, brave and soul-searing account of how she survived a near-deadly rape.

Freedman, a Toronto-based University of Guelph philosophy professor, has crafted a book destined to become an important tool for rape survivors, as well as for members of all professions who deal with them. It's also a call to action to end violence against women.

Freedman is an excellent writer who powerfully details her horrifying knife-point rape, in which she was nearly killed, as a 22-year-old backpacking through Europe in 1990.

Beginning with the book's prologue, Freedman's riveting writing grips the reader. She perceptively observes: "I have finally reconciled myself to the immutability of trauma. Psychological trauma is a chronic condition, and that means that the rape is forever my shadow. It tracks me everywhere... Most especially, it stalks me in the bedroom."

Freedman says, "My body is interminably sensitive to the touch, the violence of the rape imprinted all over it."

Years of hard work with an exceptional therapist have been highly efficacious for her recovery, she explains.

She calls sexual violence against women a dirty secret, as well as an epidemic. Her research reflects that one in three women worldwide is raped, which amounts to one such crime being committed every 10 seconds. Despite these statistics, the "social and cultural pressure on women to keep their stories private is, for many, an insurmountable hurdle," Freedman states.

Telling her story, with heroic and devastating candour, is Freedman's way of helping others, as well as herself.

Freedman's book is meticulously researched. She describes everything from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to panic attacks (she has endured both) in an easily understandable and precise manner.

Of PTSD, she notes: "It's characterized by a nervous system that is on high alert: fearing for the worst, and living in constant expectation of harm."

Freedman outlines her involvement in the trial of her attacker, who was ultimately convicted in Paris and sentenced to eight years of incarceration, and expresses immense gratitude for her compassionate and supportive family and her partner.

Initially silent about her "hour of terror," Freedman has found strength from helping other survivors of sexual assault by discussing her own experience and participating in groups with other survivors of sexual violence. "Talking about our experiences of sexual violence can be an important step in the recovery process for survivors -- although not, perhaps, a necessary one," she writes. "Each survivor in that room had been treated as an object, each one had her body used sexually, violently, against her will."

She reveals: "There is something powerful about making public this private experience, about having others see us in it, about asking them to bear witness to our stories."

Freedman espouses the perspective that "violence against women may take different forms and range in severity, it persists as part of a system of oppression and gender discrimination that is rooted in structural inequalities between men and women."

One Hour In Paris will provide many hours of thought-provoking, compelling reading and discussion.


Brenlee Carrington, a Winnipeg lawyer and mediator, is the Law Society of Manitoba's equity ombudsperson.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2014 G8


Updated on Saturday, May 17, 2014 at 8:44 AM CDT: Tweaks formatting, adds photo/book jacket.

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