REAL LIFE

Man who raped 16-year-old student when he was 18 reunites years later with his victim to share their story

“I felt spine-bending guilt”
TED

Over two decades after Thordis Elva, 16, was sexually assaulted by Tom Stranger, 18, the pair have reunited to share the story of the rape, and how they found hope.

They were invited to share their story on stage at TED, after having co-authored a book about the experience.

In Iceland, in 1996, Tom was an exchange student and had been dating Thordis for ‘a month or so’ when they attended their high school’s Christmas ball.

Thordis says she had gotten drunk and felt like Tom was her hero when he offered to take her home, and helped put her to bed.

‘It was like a fairy tale, his strong arms around me, laying me in the safety of my bed,’ she remembers.

As she was slowly sobering up she realised that Tom hadn’t just stopped at putting her in bed. He was now taking off her clothes. But, too weak to fight back, she couldn’t stop what was happening to her.

‘The pain was blinding. I thought I’d been 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,’ she said.

But, she says, ‘despite limping for days and crying for weeks’ the rape didn’t match what she’d thought rape to be. Her boyfriend wasn’t a violent lunatic.

For Tom, he admits to lying to himself about what happened.

‘It’s important to now state that I didn’t see my deed for what it was… 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.’

Thordis was tormented by the event in the years to follow. Blaming herself for drinking, for trusting him, for wearing a short skirt, or for smiling.

Almost 10 years after the even she wrote to Tom, realising that there was a way out of this torment.

The pair began writing back and forth and eventually met in person 16 years after the rape.

After speaking together about what they each experienced, Thordis says the relief was incredible.

‘Light had triumphed over darkness… There is hope after rape.’

‘Light had triumphed over darkness.’

The pair shared their story side-by-side on stage, both ending on the same important message.

Tom says taking responsibility for his behavior, taking the blame, was crucial.

‘Far too often, the responsibility is attributed to female survivors of sexual violence, and not to the males who enact it,’ he says.

Thordis agrees: ‘It’s about time that we stopped treating sexual violence as a women’s issue’.

Their book – South of Forgiveness – is on sale in March 2017.

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