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This Rape Victim And Her Rapist Wrote A Book Together

Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger talk about rape culture and forgiveness.

In 1996, 16-year-old Thordis Elva was raped by her then-boyfriend Tom Stranger after a school dance. He raped her while she was drunk; she wasn’t able to fight back.

Like many rape survivors, Thordis had a difficult time recovering from the assault: “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. Tom wasn't an armed lunatic, he was my boyfriend, and it didn't happen in a seedy alleyway, it happened in my own body.” Tom was an exchange student in Iceland, where Thordis is from, but he eventually flew back to Australia.


According to Tom, he didn’t consider the incident to be rape, although he still felt guilty. When Thordis was 25, she emailed Tom about what happened. They spoke about it for nearly eight years before agreeing to meet up in Cape Town. That’s when Tom was able to acknowledge what he had done: “Saying to Thordis that I raped her changed my accord with myself and with her, but mostly importantly the blame transferred from Thordis to me.”

They eventually co-authored a book together called South of Forgiveness and even gave a joint TED Talk last year. During their presentation, Tom said, “Far too often, the responsibility is attributed to female survivors of sexual violence, and not to the males who enact it. Far too often, the denial and running leaves all parties at a great distance from the truth. There's definitely a public conversation happening now, and like a lot of people, we're heartened that there's less retreating from this difficult but important discussion. I feel a real responsibility to add our voices to it.”

There have been mixed reactions since Thordis and Tom came out with their story. To others, Tom will always be a rapist who deserves to be in prison, but there are also those who acknowledge that everyone heals differently.

Where do you stand?

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