Wednesday 16 August 2017

'I silently counted the seconds on my alarm clock' - Rape survivor appears on stage with her rapist to tell their story

Thordis appeared on stage with her rapist Tom during a Ted Talk
Thordis appeared on stage with her rapist Tom during a Ted Talk
Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy

A woman has appeared on stage with her rapist to deliver a TED talk on the issue of rape culture and consent.

Thordis Elva was raped by her former boyfriend Tom Stranger in 1996 in her native Iceland, and the pair have penned a book about the experience which Thordis said buried her beneath "a soul-crushing load of silence" for nine years.

Australian Tom had been living in Iceland on an exchange programme when he committed the assault, which he said he knew was "immeasurably wrong".

Speaking on stage Thordis said: "It was like a fairy tale, his strong arms around me, laying me in the safety of my bed. 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. I thought I'd be severed in two. In order to stay sane, I silently counted the seconds on my alarm clock."

Thordis, who was 16 at the time of the rape, said the assault haunted her for almost 10 years and said it took a decade to realise that it was not her fault.

"It took me years to realise that only one thing could have stopped me from being raped that night, and it wasn't my skirt, it wasn't my smile, it wasn't my childish trust. The only thing that could've stopped me from being raped that night is the man who raped me — had he stopped himself."

Nine years after the incident, Thordis penned Tom a letter about that night and the effect her assault had on her life to which he responded.

"Before sending the letter, I prepared myself for all kinds of negative responses, or what I found likeliest: no response whatsoever. The only outcome that I didn't prepare myself for was the one that I then got — a typed confession from Tom, full of disarming regret. As it turns out, he, too, had been imprisoned by silence. And this marked the start of an eight-year-long correspondence that God knows was never easy, but always honest."

Tom admitted the motivation behind the assault, memories of which he said he pushed to a dark corner of his mind.

"Deep down, I knew I'd done something immeasurably wrong. But without planning it, I sunk the memories deep, and then I tied a rock to them.

"Saying to Thordis that I raped her changed my accord with myself, as well as with her. But most importantly, the blame transferred from Thordis to me. 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."

The pair are currently writing a book about their experience with rape and reconciliation, 'South of Forgiveness'. View the TED talk here.

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