Victim sharing stage with her rapist to discuss experiences sparks outrage
The startling case of a rape victim and her perpetrator sharing a stage together to publicly address both of their experiences has sparked widespread outrage among feminists.
Thordis Elva of Iceland, who co-authored a book titled ‘South Of forgiveness’ with her rapist, discussed the trauma that she experienced and how she reconciled with herself to forgive the perpetrator in the course of time at a TED Talk filmed in October last year.
Elva was raped by her then 18-year-old boyfriend Tom Stranger, who went to Iceland on a student exchange programme from Australia, after a Christmas party.
She was only 16 back then and before she could do anything about it, Stranger was done with the exchange programme and returned to Australia.
After many years of going through the horrors of the experience, she finally tracked Stranger down and decided to confront him.
To her surprise, Stranger responded with a confession of his wrongdoing and an offer to do whatever he could.
As it was too late to press criminal charges by then, they decided to co-author a book documenting what happened and how she came to forgive stranger for the crime he committed.
So far, over 2.7 million people have watched their Ted talk, and two have since shared the stage in a number of appearances, including one with BBC Newsnight.
Elva, who now lives in Sweden with her husband and son, suggests that forgiveness was about self-healing.
"People somehow think you are giving the perpetrator something when you forgive but, in my view, it is the complete polar opposite. Forgiving was, for me, so that I could let go of the self-blame and shame that I had wrongfully shouldered ..." she told the Australian panel show Q&A.
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) March 6, 2017
According to Elva, this would shift the focus of responsibility for sexual violence to the perpetrator rather than the victim, and bring about the "demonstrification" of attackers.
"The fact that Tom wasn't a monster, but a person who made an awful decision, made it harder for me to see his crime for what it was," she told BBC Newsnight.
Stranger also acknowledged his crime, the gravity of his action and the damages that he caused.
He is probably the first and only rapist to have confessed his crime publicly and internationally, and that too without being identified by a court.
Meanwhile, question has been raised whether a rapist should be given a platform to share his experience, drawing widespread condemnation and also support.
Women of the World (WOW) Festival, an international project, which invited the pair for a discussion over ‘South Of Forgiveness’, had to drop the event in the face of pressure from protesters.
Angry campaigners thronged the Royal Festive Hall at the Southbank Centre in London on March 14 evening protesting a perpetrator being invited to discuss the impacts of his actions, reports BBC.
However, the organisers later rescheduled the discussion suggesting that the debate was too important to silence.
"Rape is one of these critical issues and we need to shift the discourse around it, which too often focuses on rape survivors rather than rape perpetrators", Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, WOW organisers said in a statement.
"I don't believe there can ever be impunity for a rapist," Diane Langford, 75, a survivor of rape, told BBC condemning the decision.
The organisers of the event also said Stranger would not be paid for his appearance and he has vowed to donate any profits from the book to charity.
Stranger said he would be "deeply invested in listening to other men" and encouraged other men around the world to make their voices heard.
"I recognise I'm a problematic individual. But I think there's a hunger for this discussion and it is high time."
Audiences welcomed his involvement in the talk.
"If you never hear from men, then how is anything ever going to change?" said Simran Chawla, 41, an audience.
"Tom did something quite brave and courageous" said another.