Can I forgive the man who abused me?

Thordis Elva was crimes aged 16. Years subsequently, she emailed Tom Stranger, the man who raped her, beginning a raw, agonizing healing process documented in their work South of Forgiveness. In this remove, they meet to find a way forward

Thordis Elva is from Iceland and known to Icelandersas a columnist, playwright, journalist and public speaker. She was voted Woman of the Time 2015 by the Federation of Icelandic Womens Societies in Reykjavik for her is currently working on gender equality, and has written a celebrated notebook on gender-based violence, 2009 s mannamli( The Plain Truth ). She currently resides in Stockholm, Sweden with her collaborator Vidir and their son . Tom Stranger is Australian. He fulfilled Elva when he was 18 and on a student exchange programme in Iceland, and the pair had a relationship. Since then, he has worked in various sectors( community services, youth, outdoor recreation, charity, structure, and hospitality ). For now, he is working as a landscape gardener and lives in Sydney with his wife, Cat .

From: tomsstranger @hotmail. com
Sent : Saturday 21 May 2005, 5.38 am
To : thordiselva @hotmail. com
Subject: Words for you
Thordis, I dont wondering where to start. When I saw your call in my inbox, my spine disappeared cold. My memories are still as clear as era. Please believe me when I say I have not forgotten what I did, and how apprehensive I have to be of myself .
I dont know how to reply. I want to call myself sick( but I know I am not ), I want to say that you are so strong, so strong to be able to write to me and recall the events and my activities. I want to thank you for not hating me, although Id like you to. It would make it easier for me .
Without looking for a scraping of empathy, I want to tell you that the events and passions I was party to in Iceland have replayed in my head many times, frequently when I am by myself for any period of era. They flash past me, vividly accurate, and then, shortly after the end of the prohibition and positive reputation reinforcement, comes the issues to: Who am I? It is a dark part of my memory. Ive tried to suppress it .
But this is not about me. Whatever I can do or render you, I am more than eager. The question is where to go from here. You tell me .
Tom .


After eight years of analyze the violent past and its consequences in a written mail, Thordis and Tom decide to meet up in the middle, between their home countries of Iceland and Australia, looking to face their past once and for all.

Day one, 27 March 2013

The taxi selects me up at a quarter to five and takes me to the bus depot, where Im booked on the fly-bus. The grizzled taxi move, hoisting my suitcase into the trunk with a smooth exercise, has asked me where Im going.

To South Africa.

Oh, truly? To Johannesburg?

No, to Cape Town, I reply, still in disbelief at my own texts despite the time Ive had to adjust to the idea. It would be an understatement to say that the proposed see has been on my subconsciou. Its resounded in each step when Ive become out for a guide; its been in every breath of cold winter air that raked the insides of my lungs; its drenched the soggy washcloth I used to clean my sons sticky fingers. And Ive tried my best to pushing it out of my knowledge when making love to my fiance, enjoying his warm scalp against mine.

After all, that would be a highly improper time to be thinking about it.

From the moment the end was placed, I adapted to a brand-new calendar before or after Cape Town. The last experience I bought disinfectant I automatically deduced that I wouldnt have to buy another one until after Cape Town. Yesterday, when huddling down with my three-year-old son to do some painting together, investing quality time with him BC temporarily conciliated my remorse for leaving him for 10 periods to advance halfway across the globe to face a soldier from the past without such guarantees of the outcome.

Something tells me that parents of young children are not means to taking these foolhardy decisions. Thats the reason I gave up my nightmares of parachuting when I descended pregnant with my son. Then again, shedding myself out of an aeroplane at 7,000 hoofs carries little psychological jeopardy than taking a expedition down memory lane with the man who turned my world upside down. Because it wasnt an unknown lunatic who rent “peoples lives” apart all those years ago. Who refused to do so the present of medical help for me, although there is I was just conscious and vomiting convulsively. Who decided instead to abuse me for two limitless hours.

It was my first love.

My babies eyes flew wide open when I told her that I was roaming alone to South Africa to meet up with “the mens” who crimes me when I was 16. She strung together a series of hair-raising worst-case scenarios before making out a exhale, looking at me with loving distaste, and including: But I know its senseless to try to talk you out of things youve adjust your thinker to, dear. Shortly thereafter, my pa ended my carrying where reference is dropped by for a coffee. Despite my attempt to break the news to him in the gentlest manner possible, it didnt prevent him from freaking out. He taught me in a thundering expression about how I was jeopardising “peoples lives” for an altogether nonsensical idea.

But I have to finish this chapter of my life, I said softly. My neck were on fire.

Finish this chapter? he recited, appalled, and jump-start out of his chair. You dont need to travel across the globe to finish anything! This whole idea is a big ostentatious drama, thats what it is!

His paroles affected me right where it hurts.

Youll have no control over anything. Good-for-nothing but your thoughts! Good-for-nothing else!

What do you signify? I questioned, perplexed. Ill certainly hold my acts and whereabouts.

No you wont, dear, he hissed. You cant ever. If you are able, then that wouldnt have happened.

We both knew what he meant by that, even though weve never talked about the incident that changed everything. In recent years, Ive spoken widely and publicly about my status as a crime survivor( though, until now, never determined the man who raped me) yet my father and I have never discussed that momentous darknes. He has never requested and Ive ever presupposed he doesnt want to know.

I set up straight-out, aware of my shine cheek. If you shorten me to victim and him to perpetrator, I can see how this seems incomprehensible to you. But were much more than that, Dad.

He scoffed aloud before storming out of the kitchen.

I leant against the wall and let the air out of my lungs slowly. Goddamn it . I knew this would be hard, but vicious hell.

My father appeared again in the doorway, pacing up and down with annoyance I knew was fuelled by fatherly love. How can you be sure youll finish anything with this nonsense? This may just as readily be the start of something else altogether! The distress in his expres built it sound like a threat.

I baby-sit alone in the silence my father left behind and watched the dust determine. In a space, I think were both privilege. This trip will definitely recognized an expiration to a certain section of “peoples lives”. What defines me apart from my father is my ideology that in the next chapter, I wont be the main victims any more.

Day two, 28 March 2013

The screen in the seatback in front of me evidences a blinking airplane over a delineate. Harmonizing to the timer, Cape Town is just 29 hours away. The butterflies in my gut nose-dive, as the time seems path too limited considering how many questions are left unanswered.

Goddamn it, what if I cant forgive him? Am I ready to let go?

Frustrated, I scroll through the folder on my laptop, searching for something to soothe my nerves. I was level-headed enough when I showed this journey, wasnt I? In an attempt to recover my faith in this risky endeavour, I read through my own proposition πŸ˜› TAGEND

You may need a lifetime to forgive yourself for what you did to me. That is up to you and you take nonetheless long this is necessary, independent of anyone else .
I, however, am climbing a different mountain. And I am get very close to the top .
I propose that in six months time, we meet up with the intent of contacting forgiveness, once and for all. In person .
It is the only proper way in order to be allowed to do it, I feel. No word is capable of being are comparable to face-to-face communication. And after all weve been through, I think it is the most decorous and honest practice to finish this chapter of our storey .

I sound so calm, so fucking reasonable . How is it possible that this was written by the same person now hyperventilating in a plane 30,000 ft over South Africa, full of nerve-racking disbelief?

Reading through his reply, Im rather comforted that he, very, felt conflicted πŸ˜› TAGEND

Ill admit that I was floored by your request to meet up. Fearful, anxious, cautious, paranoid. You refer it, it all came crowding in. But youve asked, and you sound like you are inducing vital dirt towards something very special for yourself. So of course Ill agree to see you. After much gues I do think it will be beneficial, and chances for myself to air face-to-face some long hampered words and for us both to look to close some doorways .
I want it for you, Thordis, as you seem strong, open and ready to see me and move forward. I require it for me because Im so very sick of being sick and appreciating myself as unlovable, and conceive I can move on if I could just seem you in the face, own up to it and say Im sorry .

Forgiveness is the only way, I tell myself, because whether or not he deserves my forgiveness, I deserve peacefulnes. Because Im doing this for me. My forgiveness is white-hot from the whetstone, and its purpose is to sever the ties, because if I can make this run, once and for all, Im certain that my overall wellbeing will benefit greatly. Self-preservation at its best.

Day four , 30 March 2013

Its seven oclock when we buy ourselves a suck at the hotel forbid and sit down by a table coping with the plot, readying ourselves for the hard talk. The windowpane rattles aloud, and an interminable creek of staff sweeping the area confuses me to the level where I give up. What do you say about us finishing this conversation in my area?

He looks at me, appalled. Are you sure? Youre comfy with that?

Im sure that itll be easier to have this talk if we get proper privacy. Its tough enough as it is.

Tom extends ever-increasing anxiety as the elevator clambers closer to the 12 th flooring. Unlike him, my ardours have calmed down.

Almost serene, I step out of the elevator. Theres no turning back now.

He immerses his hands in his pockets as I fish my key out of my purse in front of my inn area. Putting my hand on the doorknob, it morphs into the lily-white plastic door-handle with the keyhole that haunts my nightmares. Within me, everything tumbles silent. Ready? I ask myself.

Without hesitation, I turn the key.

Tom follows me inside my room, takes a look around and smiles nervously. Not bad.

Sit wherever you like. Im going to do some tea.

Thordiss student ID from around the time she filled Tom. Photograph: Politenes of Thordis Elva

He sits down on the edge of the bed while I busy myself with the kettle. From the angle of my see, I detect him closing his eyes and arranging his back, as if hes steeling himself. When the roasting liquid smacks the teabag at the bottom of the goblet, Tom begins the storey in a hoarse articulation. I wore my golden shirt that evening. I didnt know it was customary to get dressed up for a dance in Iceland, and I didnt have anything thought. The son of my legion lineage took me to an exclusive store and helped me prefer the shirt. I thought it was the flower of hot, at the time. The striped trousers were a present from my legion sister.

He accepts the steaming teacup from my hand and gazes into it for a few moments before persisting. I recollect how excited I was when I bought the ticket. I remember that I was with my friends Carlos and Ben when we convened you outside the dance. You were pretty suck when you arrived.

It was the first time Id ever savoured rum, I tell him. I didnt know how to drink booze. Nor did I know how to smoke, although there is I took a draw from the wheeled cigarette you handed me. I just wanted to impress you. And after the following wild cough, I wondered if perhaps that wasnt a cigarette, I remind myself.

I lost you the minute we stepped inside, Tom continues. Carlos and I get straight to the dancefloor. I remember feeling happy and carefree in that sweaty piling of beings. Then someone told me you werent well, you were in the ladies.

My mind replays the nasty background from the lavatory stall. The stains on my new dress. My hair wet from hugging the bathroom. My suspicion and wonder as one spasm after the other wrung my body out like a dishrag. The repeated hopes that Id neither booze nor fume again if I were simply allowed to survive this night. And finally, the hopeles wish for my momma to come save me. I fucked up, Mom. Im sorry .

Tom frowns. I felt it was my duty to go and check on you. So I exited in and climbed over the partition, into your cubicle. I accommodated your whisker back while you upchuck, and I speculated I was going to be sick as well. Then you flopped to the ground and prepare there, motionless. I remember carrying you out.

He pauses and searches away. Before I have a chance to tell him how grateful I was when he appeared like my mother personify to save me from an untimely death on the shower flooring, he grimaces bitterly. Then I couldnt be riled to look after you, Thordis. I dropped you on Ben and left you with him. You were slumped on the chairs outside the showers and he stood there, stooped over you, as I went back to the dancefloor.

I look at him in surprise. I thought youd taken me straight home.

He clenches his mouth. My alone thought was that this was the only Christmas dance I was going to experience in Iceland. I was selfish and didnt have any relate for you. In the end, I felt guilty that some other person was looking after my girlfriend. So I scooped you up in my limbs and carried you up the stairs, in a fouled climate because I had to leave the party.

And the security guards stopped you on the way out because they wanted to call an ambulance for me as I was hanging from your limbs, foaming at the mouth. They reckoned I had alcohol poisoning.

Id forgotten that minute but I dont indecision it, he says in a low voice.

Tom Stranger in 1996, the year he went to Iceland. Photo: Politenes of Tom Stranger

I remember that division vividly because for a second there, I thought youd take their advice, I react, ogling down into my beaker. That Mom and Dad would get a bellow from the hospital saying that their 16 -year-old daughter was lying there with alcohol poisoning. I saw being floored for life.

Id knows we three years by then “what its like to” drink to excess, and Id considered many of your best friend at various stages of drunkenness. I simply thought you were wasted. I didnt think you were in real danger, he says.

Whatever it was, it had me paralysed and unable to speak. But I heard you loudly and clearly as you repudiated the volunteer of an ambulance, telling the security guards that you knew me and would hear me safely home.

He nods, his complexion strangely pallid. The taxi was white-hot, I recollect. I told the driver your address I remember making us into your live. But what I dont recollect is what I did with you while I struggled to unlock the door.

You draped me across your shoulder while you rummaged round in my crate for the keys.

He makes his eyebrows. Actually? Like a bag of potatoes?

I nod.

He swears at himself softly. And I remember your entrance hall, the shoes on the floor. From recall, past the hair fixes there were some stairs on the left, leading up to the kitchen and your mothers domain. Your room was through on the right. He stops and swallows.

I recollect taking your clothes off.

I remember it very. My grateful when he removed my vomit-stained dress. My succor at having my hoofs to move away from the high heels. My annoyance for not enabled to utter a word of thanks. My scarcity of understanding when he continued to remove my underwear. Why my panties? Why ?

My stomach muscles reflexively stiffen as I prepare for the blow.

He stands up, moving restlessly, and saunters over to the wall opposite the bed. I undressed you absolutely … He descends silent and hangs his head. The air wails pitifully outside the window.

Tom begins to cry.

I wish I could tell you why I did it, Thordis.

Did what?

Raped you, he says, quietly.

This is an edited extract from South of Forgiveness by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger( Scribe Publications, 12.99 ). To order a simulate for 11.04 go to or announce 0330 333 6846. Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger will be speaking at the Royal Festival Hall as the members of the Women of the World festival on 11 March, and at the Bristol Festival of Ideas on 13 March

People were quick to judge I wasnt enraged enough: what came next for Thordis and Tom

Standing in stark stage suns, with five cameras aimed at me, I recently ascertained myself on a stagecoach, telling an audience of 1,200 how Id been abused when I was 16 years old. Next to me on stagecoach was Tom, who abused me after a dance at our high school. Together, we devoted a TED talk that summarised a 20 -year long process, whereby Tom shouldered responsibility for his actions and the lane they impacted “peoples lives”. It was deemed virtually 2m occasions in the first week and the overwhelming reaction was positive and supportive.

In the talk, I described the savagery Tom subjected me to, how I wasted times requiring good-for-nothing more than to hurt him back, how I felt a space to part with the indignation that practically expensed me my life, as well as rid myself of accuse that I like so many other survivors wrongfully shouldered.

Tom described how he felt therefore deserves my body that night, without any relate for me, and consequently persuasion himself that what he did was sex and not crimes. The following nine years were tagged by denial, in which he did his best to outrun the past, until I confronted him in a pivotal email that changed “peoples lives” for ever.

Ive been asked why I didnt press charges immediately, and the simple-minded answer to that question is that I was a 16 -year-old girl with naive notions about assault. Rapes were committed by forearmed madmen, the kind of sensationalised demons you watched on Tv and read about in the working papers. The fact that Tom wasnt a monster, but someone who is made an horrendous decision, prepared it harder for me to see his violation for what it was. That lane, the demonisation of perpetrators in mainstream media got in the way of my convalescence. By the time I was able to identify what had happened to me as assault, Tom had moved to the other side of the planet, far away from the jurisdiction of the Icelandic police. At the time, 70% of rape examples in Iceland were rejected, even when the perpetrator could be interrogated and the survivor had documented injuries, neither of which were the example for me. Therefore, pressing indicts would not have been a productive process, and the only option I felt I had left was to bottle up my ache and fury. Study show that very few survivors have a clean-cut fib in which they went straight to the authorities after being assaulted, placed the blame squarely on the perpetrators shoulders, mended their wraps and moved closer. For the majority of members of us, life after savagery is a messy agony. We dont go to the police because were too embarrassed, scared or questionable that well be helped. We blame ourselves and haunt about things we couldve done differently. We numb ourselves with alcohol/ dopes/ sexuality/ food/ project, or we turn to self-harm to relieve the emotional agony. We continue to see our abusers and profess that nothing happened, because facing the truth is overwhelming. We develop PTSD and mental illness. We bide silent about what the fuck is up out of am concerned that well not be accepted, or worse, blamed for it because we did something wrong. No amazement, genuinely. In world, the only beings capable of preventing assaults are those who perpetrate them, and yet were told from an early age that we are going to be able prevent it from crimes by garmenting and reacting in a certain direction. This culture of victim-blaming too fosters the idea that there is a right acces is responding to savagery. Had the survivor only tattered something else , not smiled so widely , not gotten drunk, crusaded back( more ), screamed( louder ), become straight to the police , not panic their attacks retaliation if theyd exclusively said and done, everything wouldve worked out differently. Victim-blaming redoubles the disgrace that many survivors feel and lessens the probability that they speak up about their experiences.

Watch Thordis Elva and Tom Strangers TED talk.

The reality is that there is no claim reaction to having your life rent apart by brutality. I knew that my partnerships with Tom would be contentious, and the responses of internet trolls didnt surprised to see me. But I am concerned with how quick some people were to evaluate the wrong way in which I worked through my experience. I wasnt furious enough, I shouldve pressed costs, I was giving a dangerous instance, I should be ashamed. Although I made it clear that my forgiveness wasnt for my perpetrator but for myself and that without it, I wouldnt be alive, I was still told that I should not have forgiven.

This worries me. I worry about my fellow survivors who are in danger of internalising the misconception that there is a standard reaction to sexual violence, with the conclusion that they didnt react in the right way. To you, I want to say that you did nothing wrong. The course in which you carried on with their own lives may not have been clean-cut, it may have been messy and incomprehensible to those who dont share your experience, but it was your path to survive a pain. Nothing has the right to tell you how to handle your deepest pain.

And as the entitle of our narration South of Forgiveness intimates, forgiveness played a pivotal role in allowing me to let go of the self-blame I shouldered, mainly due to the victim-blaming culture I grew up in. And yet, forgiveness is not the core of our storey, in my subconsciou. The core topic is responsibility.

I understand those who feel inconvenience and even outrage when hearing and meeting Tom on stagecoach, recognizing also that hes perpetrated sexual violence. At the same epoch, afforded how prevailing this kind of defamation is and how under-reported a crime it is, were in all likelihood examine and hearing from perpetrators on a daily basis the major difference being that we dont know theyre perpetrators. They could be the peoples of the territories we went to school with, who greeted us at the grocery store, who send the film we watch, get elected to public role, move entire countries and live claim next door. Contributed the low-grade the declaration and sentence frequency, most of them will never have to take responsibility for their actions in an institutional feel. This does not lessen the gravity of their deeds.

By the time Tom had confessed to his felony, he couldnt have done time for it even if he wanted to, as the statute of limitations had passed. As a cause, our example descended through the rifts of the legal organisation, like so many others, but it didnt lessens our need to analyse our past and plaza the shared responsibility with the person to whom it belonged: Tom. We also did our very best to answer questions that are rarely constituted in the public discourse about rape, where more focus seems to be on the survivors attire, behaviour, whereabouts and sexual biography than the perpetrators guilt. And as frustrating as it is, I understand it to a certain extent. Because in the public discourse, the only beings speaking about the violence theyve been party to are the survivors, usually. Which is why this is the only way have their narratives to dissect, their details to scrutinise. Did she say shed been drinking that night? This tradition of one-sided scrutiny blindsides us from looking at the behaviour of responsible persons, the perpetrator, to whom the focus must be free to shift.

I am not sharing the story of how I handled the abuse I accepted as a laid of recommendations for others.

My story is a unique report shared in the hope that it can assistant a public discussion about sexual violence.

As a society, it is our duty to fight against violence. And as individuals, we have a right to heal from it.

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