In Camp Paradox—the first literary memoir to break the silence on the subject of female sexual abuse—Barbara Graham bravely and eloquently limns her experience as a 14-year-old camper who was molested by her trusted 28-year-old counselor in the early 1960’s. It took Graham 30 years to recognize that she’d been sexually abused, and another decade to forgive herself for allowing the abuse to happen.
By turns haunting, wry and wise, Camp Paradox evokes the intense hothouse atmosphere of all-girls’ summer camps. These eight-week parallel universes offered an exhilarating sense of freedom from parents and school. As Graham puts it in the book, “Camp Paradox felt like my true home. Miraculously, everyone was, if not equal, then accepted. That’s because as soon as the bus pulled through the camp gate, we were granted a clean slate. We could become someone new, someone freed from the labels our families and friends slapped on us back home: in or out, overly sensitive or mean, fast, plump, skinny, smart or, worst of all, average and, therefore, invisible.”
It was as normal for campers to have crushes on their female counselors as it was to fall madly in love with Elvis or the 19-year-old stable boy. The difference between Graham and her fellow campers—at least to her knowledge—is that other counselors didn’t take advantage of her friends who were also grappling with the many varieties of early teenage angst and vulnerability.
Graham’s story of abuse began the way many stories of abuse begin: with kindness. A kind, caring counselor who made Barbara feel understood. Special. But when the 28-year-old woman started touching her, Graham was plunged into a shadow world where she didn’t know the rules and she felt more isolated, shamed and confused than ever before. It took her months to work up the courage to put a stop to the counselor’s abuse.
Thirty years later, while writing a magazine article on repressed memory, Graham finally realized that she had been sexually abused and raped—according to the laws of New York State, where the camp was located.
Camp Paradox details Graham’s growing understanding of what happened to her, from the initial abuse through contact with her counselor 40 years after the fact to a sense of healing and closure that will offer hope to anyone who has ever felt violated or been confused about the nature of an intimate relationship.