Rape victim shares stage with attacker to tell story, combat shame and understand sexual violence

'In order to stay sane, I silently counted the seconds on my alarm clock. And ever since that night, I've known that there are 7,200 seconds in two hours'

Rape survivor shares stage with the man who raped her to tell her story

A rape survivor has teamed up with her attacker to talk about the assault.

Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger said they had been in brief relationship as teenagers before he raped her one night at her home in 1996.

They said they were speaking out in the hope of reducing the shame associated with being a victim of rape and to promote a discussion about the motivations of the people - usually men - who carry out sexual assaults, in order to better understand and combat the problem.

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At a Ted Talk, which took place in October 2016 but published online this week, Ms Elva, an Icelandic native was said she just 16 when she began her high school romance with Mr Stranger, an 18-year-old exchange student from Australia.

After the couple went to a dance together she got drunk and was taken home by Stranger.

“It was like a fairy tale, his strong arms around me, laying me in the safety of my bed,” Ms Elva said. “But the gratitude that I felt towards him soon turned to horror as he proceeded to take off my clothes and get on top of me.

“My head had cleared up, but my body was still too weak to fight back, and the pain was blinding," she added. "I thought I'd be severed in two. In order to stay sane, I silently counted the seconds on my alarm clock. And ever since that night, I've known that there are 7,200 seconds in two hours.”

The attack - committed in her own room by someone known to her - did not fit into her media-influenced idea of rape, she said.

“My actions that night in 1996 were a self-centered taking,” Mr Stranger said. “I felt deserving of Thordis's body."

"I've had primarily positive social influences and examples of equitable behaviour around me," he added. "But on that occasion, I chose to draw upon the negative ones. The ones that see women as having less intrinsic worth, and of men having some unspoken and symbolic claim to their bodies. These influences I speak of are external to me, though.

"And it was only me in that room making choices, nobody else.”

The couple broke up shortly afterwards, and Mr Stranger returned to Australia, where he said he lived through "denial and running" to avoid confronting his wrongdoing. He “drew heavily” upon other parts of his life to “construct a picture” of who he was.

Meanwhile, Ms Elva struggled for years with the effects of the attack. “I was 25 years old, and headed straight for a nervous breakdown,” she said.

“My self-worth was buried under a soul-crushing load of silence that isolated me from everyone that I cared about, and I was consumed with misplaced hatred and anger that I took out on myself.”

On a particularly emotionally charged day, she wrote a letter to Mr Stranger, putting his actions to him. Unexpectedly, she received a response, and the pair continued a correspondence, eventually meeting in South Africa. Their conversations there led to a book, South of Forgiveness.

“I believe that a lot can be learned by listening to those who have been a part of the problem," Ms Elva wrote on the Ted Blog. "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.”

Rape is “often perceived as a women’s issue when it’s really a human issue”, Ms Elva said.

Men need to be involved in the discussion surrounding violence prevention, she said.

She added: “A problem of this size and magnitude calls for necessary shifts in attitude, one being that those who perpetrate violence shoulder the responsibility for it, as opposed to those who are subjected to it.”

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