Rape is one of most traumatic experiences a person can go through.
Thordis Elva, an Icelandic woman, was raped by her then-boyfriend Tom Stranger in 1996. Now, 20 years later, they came together on a stage to share their story of reconciliation. In their words, it’s not a demonstration for others but an example that healing can be possible after a sexual assault.
They co-authored an upcoming book titled “South Of Forgiveness”, where they both described the incident in “the darkest moment of their lives.”
They shared the stage on TED Women, which was held in San Francisco in October 2016. There they described their years-long collaboration of analyzing Stranger’s action and jointly holding Stranger responsible for all activities.
Stranger was an exchange student in Iceland for a year in high school where he met Elva. The two became a couple and one night when she was drunk and unable to resist, Stranger forced himself on her.
“In order to stay sane, I silently counted the seconds on my alarm clock, and ever since that night I have known that there are 7,200 seconds in two hours,” she says. “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 room.”
After the incident, both sensed the damage in their relationship and avoided each other. Later in the year, Stranger returned home to Australia. For years Stranger carried the guilt and at 25, Elva headed for a nervous breakdown. She took her misplaced anger and hatred out on herself.
Finally, she sent a letter to Stranger about what she was feeling and spurred an 8-year-long email correspondence. Later the two met in Cape Town for the first time after the incident, 16 years later.
“When the plane bounced on that landing strip in Cape Town,” Elva recalls, “I remember thinking, ‘Why did I not just get myself a therapist and a bottle of vodka like a normal person would do?’ “
Stranger says, “I gripped tight to the simple notion that I wasn’t a bad person… It took me a long time to stare down this dark corner of myself and to ask it questions.”
“My actions that night in 1996 were a self-centered taking,” he adds. “I felt deserving of Thordis’s body… Saying to Thordis that I raped her changed my accord with myself and with her. But most importantly the blame transferred from Thordis to me.”
Elva says, “It took me years to realize something. The only thing that could have prevented my rape 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.”
See their TED Talk in the video.
See more about Rape Anxiety? Rape Anxiety Explained to Men in the Clearest Terms.