She Was Raped By Him At 16

She Was Raped By Him At 16. Years Later, They Tell Their Story Together

Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger delivered a TED Talk together to share their story of reconciliation.
HIGHLIGHTS
In 1996, Tom Stranger raped Thordis Elva after a school dance
Years later, Ms Elva wrote a letter to Mr Stranger, hoping to find peace
They recently delivered a TED Talk to share their story of reconciliation
Nine years after she was raped by her former boyfriend, Iceland resident Thordis Elva wrote a letter to her rapist Tom Stranger. It was a cathartic act and through the letter, she hoped to find some peace. She didn’t expect a reply but did receive one – surprisingly it was a confession, full of regret, from him. After writing to each other, they eventually met again and have since co-authored a book about the rape and its traumatic aftermath. Ms Elva and Mr Stranger recently delivered a TED Talk together to share their story of reconciliation. The poignant talk is currently going viral on social media. Since being shared on February 7, the post has received almost 10,000 reactions and over 3,700 shares on Facebook.

Ms Elva met Mr Stranger through an exchange program in 1996 when he moved to Iceland from Australia. They began dating and their teenage romance turned into horror when, after a school dance, then 18-year-old Mr Stranger raped Ms Elva, 16. They subsequently broke up but before Ms Elva identified what happened to her as rape, Mr Stranger had moved back to Australia.

“Despite limping for days and crying for weeks, this incident didn’t fit my ideas about rape like I’d seen on TV. Tom wasn’t an armed lunatic; he was my boyfriend. And it didn’t happen in a seedy alleyway, it happened in my own bed,” she says during the talk. She blamed herself for the rape and decided not to discuss it.

“I was raised in a world where girls are taught that they get raped for a reason. 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,” Thordis Elva says. “It took me years to realize that only one thing could have stopped me from being raped that night, and it wasn’t my skirt, it wasn’t my smile, it wasn’t my childish trust. The only thing that could’ve stopped me from being raped that night is the man who raped me – had he stopped himself.”

Tom Stranger, on the other hand, didn’t see his act as rape at the time. “The word ‘rape’ didn’t echo around my mind as it should’ve, and I wasn’t crucifying myself with memories of the night before. It wasn’t so much a conscious refusal, it was more like any acknowledgment of reality was forbidden,” he says. “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,” he adds.

Eventually, Mr Stranger too put aside the incident and tried to silence his guilt, until that letter he received from Ms Elva. They wrote to each other a lot often since then but even that didn’t give Ms Elva closure. “So, after eight years of writing, and nearly 16 years after that dire night, I mustered the courage to propose a wild idea: that we’d meet up in person and face our past once and for all,” she says.

They met in Cape Town and spent a week talking to each other about their respective lives. “There were gutting confessions, and moments where we just absolutely couldn’t fathom the other person’s experience. The seismic effects of sexual violence were spoken aloud and felt, face to face. At other times, though, we found a soaring clarity, and even some totally unexpected but liberating laughter,” says Mr Stranger.
They go on to explain how they dealt with each other’s experience and what they hope to achieve through their dialogue.

“Once someone’s been deemed a victim, it’s that much easier to file them away as someone damaged, dishonored, less than. And likewise, once someone has been branded a rapist, it’s that much easier to call him a monster – inhuman. But how will we understand what it is in human societies that produces violence if we refuse to recognize the humanity of those who commit it?” asks Ms Elva.

Through their book and their talk, Ms Elva hopes society stops treating sexual violence as a women’s issue. “A majority of sexual violence against women and men is perpetrated by men. And yet their voices are sorely underrepresented in this discussion. But all of us are needed here. Just imagine all the suffering we could alleviate if we dared to face this issue together,” she says.

Source : NDTV

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