A woman came together with the man who raped her, 20 years after the incident, to co-author a book.
Thordis Elva, who was from Iceland, had been dating Australian exchange student Tom Stranger for a month, when she was 16 and he was 18, when he assaulted her.
Elva described the incident in a TEDTalk last year, titled “Our story of rape and reconciliation”.
The two are now writing a book called South of Forgiveness. Elva describes it as “a story we would have needed to hear.”
In the TEDTalk, Elva says, “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. “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.”
The two broke up after the incident and Tom moved back to Australia. He says he didn’t consider what happened as rape at the time, but still felt guilty. “Deep down, I knew I had done something wrong,” he said.
At the time, Elva couldn’t quite make sense of the incident. She thought that the rape was somehow her fault. “I was raised in a world where girls are taught that they get raped for a reason.”
When Elva almost had a nervous breakdown a few years later, she wrote a letter to Tom to explain how his actions had affected her. They kept writing to each other, and even spent a week in Cape Town discussing how the rape had impacted their lives.
“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” says Tom in the TEDTalk.
Elva understands that people may criticise her decision to co-author a book with her rapist.
In an interview on the TED blog, she says, “I understand those who are inclined to criticize me as someone who enabled a perpetrator to have a voice in this discussion. But I believe that a lot can be learned by listening to those who have been a part of the problem — if they’re willing to become part of the solution — about what ideas and attitudes drove their violent actions, so we can work on uprooting them effectively.”
She has dedicated her career to preventing sexual violence.