20 years ago, 18-year-old Australian exchange student Tom Stranger sexually assaulted 16-year-old Thordis Elva in Iceland, changing the course of their lives forever. The two have reunited to write a book about how rape affected their lives and delivered a TED talk about their experiences and what they learned about themselves.
The assault took place in Elva's home after the pair attended a Christmas ball, having dated for roughly a month. The night provided Elva with her first exposure to rum and, at the time, considered Stranger to be her savior for taking her home and getting her into bed.
In the moment, she thought fondly of the gesture, recalling, "It was like a fairy tale, his strong arms around me, laying me in the safety of my bed."
Soon after thinking her fond thoughts, her mind quickly turned to horror as Elva realized what was happening. She described, "My head had cleared up, but my body was still too weak to fight back, and the pain was blinding. I thought I'd been severed in two."
To distract herself from the horror, she began counting, hoping to keep her mind off the trauma, a decision that would stay with her, citing that, since then, she's "known that there are 7,200 seconds in two hours."
While Elva recalled the event, Stranger explained that he didn't consider his actions to be assault at the time. "To be honest, I repudiated the entire act in the days afterwards and when I was committing it," he revealed. "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."
Stranger went back to Australia shortly after, ending their relationship. The victim spent years thinking she was at fault for the crime, having been raised in an environment where the assault only happens to girls who bring it upon themselves. Almost a decade later, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, Elva decided to pen a letter to Stranger.
After keeping up correspondence with one another, they decided to meet up to discuss the event further and how it affected them. Stranger explained that, by admitting to his former girlfriend that he did rape her, he was also admitting it to himself.
"Most importantly, the blame transferred from Thordis to me," Stranger said during the TED talk. "Far too often, the responsibility is attributed to female survivors of sexual violence, and not to the males who enact it."
Their book, called "South of Forgiveness," further explores the power of words when coping with assault. Elva concluded the talk by saying, "It's about time that we stopped treating sexual violence as a women's issue."0comments
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[H/T Daily Mail]
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