Twenty years after an incident in which an Australian foreign exchange student, then 18, raped his then 16-year-old Icelandic girlfriend while on a student exchange trip to Iceland, the former couple reunited to share the story of the event — and how the two managed to move forward.
In a 19-minute-long TEDTalk filmed last year, Thordis Elva described how she had been dating Australian exchange student Tom Stranger for a “month or so” when Stranger assaulted her after the school’s Christmas ball.
“It was like a fairy tale, his strong arms around me, laying me in the safety of my bed,” Elva recalled. Drunk for the first time on rum, Elva’s joy soon turned to horror as Stranger took advantage of her weakened state.
“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 been severed in two,” said Elva. “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.”
At the time, Stranger said he didn’t consider his actions as rape. The couple broke up a few days later, and he returned home to Australia. It wasn’t until nine years after the event, when Evla, on the edge of a nervous breakdown, wrote to Stranger to explain how his actions that night had affected her. The two began writing back and forth, and finally met in person again four years ago in Cape Town. The two went on to co-author a book together about the experience, titled South of Forgiveness.
“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 … Saying to Thordis that I raped her changed my accord with myself, as well as with her,” said Stranger. “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.”
Watch the TEDTalk below.
Read the full story at The Daily Mail.