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Woman Shares The Stage With Ex-Boyfriend Who Raped Her When She Was 16

If you watch one thing today, make it this TED talk.

An Icelandic woman, Thordis Elva, and an Australian man, Tom Stranger, have collaborated on a TED talk together called ‘Our story of rape and reconciliation’.

This is no ordinary TED Talk (if any of them can be considered ordinary). This brings Thordis, a rape survivor, together with her attacker, Tom, and discusses how they both came to understand what had happened from a victim and an attacker’s perspective.

In 1996, Tom was on exchange in Iceland and fell in love with Thordis, who was 16 years old at the time. They used to meet at lunchtimes and hold hands, walking down the streets of Reykjavik’s old town together. They attended their school’s Christmas Ball together, Thordis was over the moon about her new romance.

However, that night, Thordis decided to try drinking rum for the first time, and quickly became very ill, falling in and out of consciousness, vomiting and spasming. While her teachers wanted to call an ambulance, Tom offered to take her home.

She described the experience like a ‘fairytale’, as he wrapped his arms around her and put her to bed. But everything changed when he started taking off her clothes, and he got on top of her. 

She said that the pain as so excruciating that she thought she’d be ‘severed in two’, and while her mind started clearing up, her body was too weak to fight back. 

“In order to stay sane, I silently counted the seconds on my alarm clock,” she said. “Ever since that night, I have known that there are 7200 seconds in two hours.”

Interestingly, Thordis and Tom’s understandings of what had happened were vastly different.

Thordis eventually came to the conclusion that it was rape, even though it didn’t fit with her idea of it that involved ‘dark alleys’ and ‘strangers’. She began to blame herself, thinking that it might have had something to do with her ‘short skirt’, or the alcohol. It took her years to realise that only one thing could have stopped her from being raped that night – Tom choosing not to rape her.

However Tom didn’t see his deed as rape. He wasn’t haunted by memories of the night earlier, convincing himself that it was sex. Deep down, he knew that he had done something wrong, but he buried those thoughts.

One day, nine years later, Thordis wrote a letter to Tom. 

“I want to find forgiveness,” she wrote.

She didn’t realise the torment that the rape had caused her over those nine years, and she sought to find peace by overcoming her shame. Tom wrote back to her, admitting how much regret he had over his actions.

They began an eight year correspondence, and eventually met up halfway in Cape Town, South Africa. Now they have co-authored a book about their story, and how they both found peace in reconciliation. Thordis ends the talk by clarifying that they are not ‘prescribing’ a way to deal with sexual violence, merely telling their own story.

They are both seeking to change the way society views rape as a ‘women’s issue’, attributing all responsibility to female survivors for sexual violence, not the males who enact it. They both urge more men to add their voices to the issue.

“Just imagine all the suffering we could alleviate if we dare to face this issue together,” Thordis says.

If you watch one thing today, make it this:

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