Woman meets with man who raped her to tell story together

A rape survivor and her rapist have reunited 20 years after the event to tell their story.

Thordis Elva, from Iceland, was just 16 years old when she was sexually assaulted by her then-boyfriend, an Australian foreign exchange student, Tom Stranger, 18, in 1996.

Now, after co-authoring a book on the rape, the pair have teamed up once more on the TED stage, Daily Mail reports.

The pair had been dating for a 'month or so' when the assault took place in Ms Elva's home after the school's Christmas ball. Photo / TED Talks
The pair had been dating for a 'month or so' when the assault took place in Ms Elva's home after the school's Christmas ball. Photo / TED Talks

In a 19-minute-long talk filmed late last year, Stranger and Elva discuss the impact the rape had on both of their lives.

The pair had been dating for a "month or so" when the assault took place in Elva's home after the school's Christmas ball.

Elva had tried rum for the first time, and she describes thinking that Stranger was her hero after he took her home to put her to bed:

"It was like a fairy tale, his strong arms around me, laying me in the safety of my bed," she remembered.

However, soon her gratitude turned to horror "as he proceeded to take off my clothes and get on top of me".

"My head had cleared up, but my body was still too weak to fight back, and the pain was blinding. I thought I'd been severed in two.

"To stay sane, I silently counted the seconds on my alarm clock. And ever since that night, I've known that there are 7200 seconds in two hours," she said.

Stranger responded to Elva's words in the video by saying that he didn't consider the act to be rape at the time.

"I have vague memories of the next day," he said. "The after effects of drinking, a certain hollowness that I tried to stifle. Nothing more. But I didn't show up at Thordis' door. It is important to now state that I didn't see my deed for what it was.

"To be honest, I repudiated the entire act in the days afterwards and when I was committing it. I disavowed the truth by convincing myself it was sex and not rape. And this is a lie I've felt spine-bending guilt for."

The couple broke up a couple of days later. Stranger returned home to Australia and Elva says she struggled to label what had happened to her as rape:

Nine years later, Ms Elva wrote a letter to Mr Stranger, and they later met up in Cape Town to discuss the rape - they have since co-authored a book together on the subject. Photo / TED Talks
Nine years later, Ms Elva wrote a letter to Mr Stranger, and they later met up in Cape Town to discuss the rape - they have since co-authored a book together on the subject. Photo / TED Talks

"I was raised in a world where girls are told they get raped for a reason," she said.

"Their skirt was too short, their smile was too wide, their breath smelled of alcohol. And I was guilty of all of those things, so the shame had to be mine."

In fact, it wasn't until nine years later - when Elva was on the edge of a nervous breakdown - that she wandered into a cafe only to find herself writing an extensive letter to Stranger.

After writing "I want to find forgiveness", Elva said she "realised that this was my way out of my suffering".

"Regardless of whether he deserved my forgiveness, I deserved peace," she said.

The pair began writing to each other and eventually agreed to meet in person 16 years after the rape.

Settling on a point in between Iceland and Australia, they agreed on Cape Town, and when they met for a week they shared their life stories and talked about what Stranger had done when they were teenagers:

"All I wanted to do for years is hurt Tom back as deeply as he had hurt me," Elva said.

But, she said, speaking together and discussing the tumultuous event was cathartic:

"Light had triumphed over darkness. There is hope after rape."

Now, Elva and Stranger have written a book, called South of Forgiveness.

"Something you've done doesn't have to constitute the sum of who you are," Stranger said.

"Don't underestimate the power of words. Saying to Thordis that I raped her changed my accord with myself, as well as with her.

"But most importantly, the blame transferred from Thordis to me. Far too often, the responsibility is attributed to female survivors of sexual violence, and not to the males who enact it."

Elva echoed this thought by concluding: "It's about time that we stopped treating sexual violence as a women's issue."

To watch the TED talk in full, click here. You can also pre-order a copy of the book, which is released in March 2017, here.

Where to get help:

If it is an emergency and you or someone you know is at risk, call 111.
Women's Refuge: 0800 733 843
Victim Support: 0800 842 846
Lifeline: (09) 522 2999
Family Violence Info Line: 0800 456 450

- Daily Mail

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