A woman who was raped, and the man who raped her, have appeared on stage together to deliver a TED talk recounting the incident and share their perspectives on rape culture.

Thordis Elva and Sam Stranger met in 1996 when Stranger was visiting Elva’s native Iceland on an exchange program from Australia. Elva was 16 at the time and Stranger was 18.

They dated for a few weeks, and one night, they both became intoxicated at a school dance which resulted in Stranger taking her home and putting her to bed.

She recalled to the TED Talk audience that:

He proceeded to take off my clothes and get on top of me.” She continued, “My head had cleared up, but my body was still too weak to fight back, and the pain was blinding. 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.

Despite limping for days and crying for weeks, this incident didn’t fit my ideas about rape like I’d seen on TV. 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. So I told myself it was pointless to address what had happened. And besides, it had to have been my fault, somehow.

I was raised in a world where girls are taught that they get raped for a reason. Their skirt was too short,their smile was too wide, their breath smelled of alcohol. And I was guilty of all of those things, so the shame had to be mine. It took me years to realize that only one thing could have stopped me from being raped that night, and it wasn’t my skirt, it wasn’t my smile, it wasn’t my childish trust. The only thing that could’ve stopped me from being raped that night is the man who raped me — had he stopped himself.

Stranger tells the audience:

I have vague memories of the next day. The after effects of drinking, a certain hollowness that I tried to stifle. Nothing more. But I didn’t show up at Thordis’s door. It is important to now state that I didn’t see my deed for what it was.

To be honest, I repudiated the entire act in the days afterwards and when I was committing it. 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.

I broke up with Thordis a couple of days later, and then saw her a number of times during the remainder of my year in Iceland, feeling a sharp stab of heavyheartedness each time. Deep down, I knew I’d done something immeasurably wrong. But without planning it, I sunk the memories deep, and then I tied a rock to them.

What followed is a nine-year period that can best be titled as “Denial and Running.” When I got a chance to identify the real torment that I caused, I didn’t stand still long enough to do so. Whether it be via distraction, substance use, thrill-seeking or the scrupulous policing of my inner speak, I refused to be static and silent.

And with this noise, I also drew heavily upon other parts of my life to construct a picture of who I was. I was a surfer, a social science student, a friend to good people, a loved brother and son, an outdoor recreation guide, and eventually, a youth worker. I gripped tight to the simple notion that I wasn’t a bad person. I didn’t think I had this in my bones. I thought I was made up of something else. In my nurtured upbringing, my loving extended family and role models, people close to me were warm and genuine in their respect shown towards women. It took me a long time to stare down this dark corner of myself, and to ask it questions.

In this extraordinary talk, Elva and Stranger move through a years-long chronology of shame and silence, and invite us to discuss the omnipresent global issue of sexual violence in a new, honest way.

WATCH:
https://embed.ted.com/talks/thordis_elva_tom_stranger_our_story_of_rape_and_reconciliation

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