Nearly twenty years after being raped by her then-teenage boyfriend, an Icelandic author addressed the experience on stage along with the co-author of her latest tome: the accused rapist himself.
During a discussion of the book South of Forgiveness at last year’s TED conference, co-writers Thordis Elva and Australian-born Tom Stranger relayed the life-changing event that occurred to them both in 1996 following a school dance at the duo’s Alma mater in the European country.
While gushing to her friends about her handsome suitor, who was then 18, a 16-year-old Elva imbibed in rum for the first time and had a bit too much to drink.
“That was a bad idea,” Thordis recalled of that night, as noted by the Daily Mail.
“I became very ill, drifting in and out of consciousness in between spasms of convulsive vomiting and the security guards wanted to call me an ambulance, but Tom acted as my knight in shining armor.”
After accompanying his drunk girlfriend back to her home, which her parents had left for the evening, Tom swiftly took his young girlfriend upstairs to her bedroom.
“It was like a fairy tale [at first],” she expressed, “his strong arms around me, laying me in the safety of my bed.”
Just as quickly, however, the mood turned from one of gratitude to one of outright horror as Stranger reportedly began to disrobe her.
Amazing and courageous tedtalk
— Ellen Gorris (@ellengorris) February 8, 2017
“He proceeded to take off my clothes and get on top of me,” Thordis continued.
“My head had cleared up, but my body was still too weak to fight back. The pain was blinding — I thought I’d been severed in two.”
As her boyfriend continued his assault, the frightened and broken teen tried her best to take her mind away from the dire situation she had suddenly found herself in the middle of.
“In order to stay sane, I silently counted the seconds on my alarm clock,” Ms. Elva remarked.
“And ever since that night, I’ve known that there are 7,200 seconds in two hours.”
When it was his turn to speak, Mr. Stranger admitted that at first, he didn’t actually believe he was doing anything wrong because Thordis Elva was his girlfriend.
“To be honest,” he began, “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.”
Days later, he was single once more and shortly after that, he was on his way back to his home country. Thordis, meanwhile, started the long and arduous emotional journey of putting herself back together.
“I was raised in a world where girls are told they get raped for a reason,” she expressed.
“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.”
It was a shame she willingly held onto for nearly a decade, before literally stumbling into a small cafe to stop herself from mentally breaking down over the event. Once she entered the establishment, she sat down at a table and realized that the only way she could move on was to reach out to the person who once stole her innocence — Tom.
“I [wanted] to find forgiveness,” Ms. Elva stated, “and I realized that this was my way out of my suffering.”
After contacting Mr. Stranger through a letter, the now-adult Tom responded immediately and shared his regret about what occurred in her bedroom that night. Following a few more letters between the former couple, the two agreed to meet face-to-face after 16 years to discuss things deeper during a week-long trip to South Africa.
“All I wanted to do for years is hurt Tom back as deeply as he had hurt me,” she admitted, “but [by that time], light had triumphed over darkness.”
— South of Forgiveness (@forgiveness_of) February 7, 2017
As part of their joint healing process, both Thordis and Tom came together again recently to share both sides of their tale in the upcoming book, South of Forgiveness, which is set for release in March 2017.
“Don’t underestimate the power of words,” Mr. Stranger said of the book. “Saying to Thordis that I raped her changed my accord with myself, as well as with her. Far too often, the responsibility is attributed to female survivors of sexual violence, and not to the males who enact it.”
Ms. Elva closed out their conversation by fully concurring with Tom’s acceptance of his actions.
“It’s about time that we stopped treating sexual violence as a women’s issue,” she concluded.
Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger’s full TED conversation can be seen here.
[Featured Image by TED]