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Rape survivor and her attacker discuss why #MeToo is so important

‘The ripple effects are enormous’

Olivia Petter
Wednesday 29 November 2017 13:12
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A rape survivor who shared a stage with her attacker has discussed why the #MeToo movement is a watershed moment.

Thordis Elva was a 16-year-old student in Iceland when Tom Stranger, an 18-year-old Australian foreign exchange student, raped her.

20 years later, they hosted a controversial TED talk in which Stranger owned up to the assault and the two dispelled some of the myths surrounding rape culture that can protect perpetrators like him.

Many people at the time were critical that Stranger had been given a voice on such a prominent platform to share his side of the story as the attacker, however, others praised him for taking responsibility for his actions.

Now, in light of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and the rise of #MeToo stories being shared on social media, he and Elva have discussed the common misconceptions surrounding rape culture in an interview with USA Today.

“This is not just a periodic conversation that’s going to fade,” explains Stranger, who has been following the #MeToo movement online.

“To me, the next thing I’m keenly watching is behaviour. I want to see what this looks like on the street.

“I’m wondering how this feels for women and men in the workplace and walking around in public."

Elva added that a lack of education regarding violence against women can foster rape culture today.

She explained that men are often taught social lies that encourage aggressive behaviour and the making of inappropriate sexual remarks.

Stranger agrees, blaming binary ideologies that present men as either “good” or “bad” for perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

He says that these divides shift the focus and can present assault as an exclusively female issue.

Both praised the current prevalence of conversations surrounding sexual violence for helping raise awareness from a survivor’s perspective.

In addition to amplifying the ubiquity of feeble denials on behalf of the attacker, Stranger commended the fact that dismissive and introspective apologies are not being passively accepted.

One downside to the publicity surrounding Weinstein's alleged victims, Elva notes, is that it is partly due to their high profile status rather than their identity as possible sexual assault survivors.

However, she is hopeful that the conversation is progressing in a way which proves that it's not just conventionally beautiful and wealthy women who deserve a voice to combat sexual violence.

When asked to explain why he raped Elva, Stranger claims that the attack was “excavated” from his memory.

“There was selfishness there. There was lust there. I didn’t uncover feelings of wanting to hurt Thordis, but that’s, of course, exactly what I did,” he said.

Stranger added that he and Elva have undergone an eight year email exchange in order to fully understand and acknowledge his actions.

She explained that the attack no longer causes her pain, but has permanently impacted the way she views sexual assault and gender inequality in a wider sense.

“Once your eyes have opened to the magnitude of the problem, it's impossible to 'unsee' it,” she concludes.

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