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A rape victim shared a stage with her attacker for a really important reason

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Picture: Ted

It takes an incredible level of courage to stand up to someone who attacked you, but it often takes an even greater bravery to forgive them for it.

Thordis Elva was 16 when she was attacked and raped by her boyfriend at the time, Tom Strange, who was studying in her home country of Iceland.

Speaking at a Ted talk last year, Thordis and Tom took to the stage to recall the events of that evening, the attack, the fallout it created both physically and mentally, and what happened next.

Thordis told the audience that she was '16 and in love for the first time,' attending a Christmas dance with Tom as a fully-fledged couple. The pair had enjoyed a teenage romance for the past few months, and Tom had even met her parents. 

During the evening, Thordis tried rum for the first time, she quickly felt ill but "Tom acted as my knight in shining armour,' and took her home.

She goes on to recall: 

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.

What happened next, was a violation.

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. And ever since that night, I've known that there are 7,200 seconds in two hours.

 

Thordis explains that what happened to her 'didn't fit her ideas' of rape. 

Tom wasn't an armed lunatic; he was my boyfriend. And it didn't happen in a seedy alleyway, it happened in my own bed. By the time I could identify what had happened to me as rape, he had completed his exchange program and left for Australia. 

 

Tom too, says that at first, he did not identify what happened as rape: 

It is important to now state that I didn't see my deed for what it was. The word “rape” didn't echo around my mind as it should've, and I wasn't crucifying myself with memories of the night before.

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.

 

Over the course of nine years, Tom experienced what he describes as “Denial and Running,” where he often tried to convince himself that he wasn't a bad person. While Thordis says she was "headed straight for a nervous breakdown".

Things came to a head for Thordis stormed away from a loved one, went to a cafe and wrote a letter to Tom, recounting the violence he subjected her to and the words: "I want to find forgiveness”.

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. I relieved myself of the burdens that I'd wrongfully shouldered, and he, in turn, wholeheartedly owned up to what he'd done.

Our written exchanges became a platform to dissect the consequences of that night, and they were everything from gut-wrenching to healing beyond words.

Thordis confessed though, that this didn't bring true closure - it would take 16 years after the night of the Christmas dance for them to meet face-to-face.

They decided to meet in Cape-Town, South Africa for one week - as it was a midway point between Australia and Iceland.

Tom explains: 

 The seismic effects of sexual violence were spoken aloud and felt, face to face. At other times, though, we found a soaring clarity, and even some totally unexpected but liberating laughter. When it came down to it, we did out best to listen to each other intently. And our individual realities were aired with an unfiltered purity that couldn't do any less than lighten the soul.

Thordis added:

At times, our search for understanding in Cape Town felt like an impossible quest, and all I wanted to do was to give up and go home to my loving husband, Vidir, and our son. But despite our difficulties, this journey did result in a victorious feeling that light had triumphed over darkness, that something constructive could be built out of the ruins.

Watch the entire video of their lecture below:

 


More: This student created a powerful photo series about rape after Brock Turner's early release

 

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