On Wednesday 8th March Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger took to the stage in Waterstones as part of the Festival of Ideas. Together they shared their remarkable journey of reconciliation and a past that tormented them both. This brutally honest narrative shared between a rapist and his victim aims to debunk what they term the ‘monster myth’ and encourage men to partake in a conversation that they are usually excluded from.
However, in giving Tom such a prominent platform, are we applauding a rapist? And worse, are we suggesting that the perpetrator can gain any form of social recognition, because after all – any publicity is good publicity.
“Ever since that night, I’ve known that there are 7,200 seconds in two hours”
On December 17th 1996 on the night of a high school dance, after smoking and excessive drinking, Thordis at the age of 16 was raped by a man she knew; a man she considered to be her boyfriend. In the talk Thordis and Tom give their own accounts of that night.
Thordis’s account is one of intoxication, drifting in and out of consciousness between spasms of convulsive vomiting and details of the indescribable pain that forced her to count the seconds of her alarm clock in order to stay sane.
A palpable sense of agony filled the room when she explained that, “ever since that night, I’ve known that there are 7,200 seconds in two hours”. The ordeal left her deeply marked with both physical and emotional consequences, and would have lasting affects on her career, romantic and general life choices.
Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger talk in Bristol 13 March. https://t.co/RxfEBAUYx3
— Festival of Ideas (@FestivalofIdeas) March 5, 2017
Anxiety, struggles with eating disorders, and substance abuse all in attempt to numb the pain. Tom’s narration of the night’s events is disarmingly honest and direct: ‘I undress Thordis, and what is clear is that she didn’t give me consent and I didn’t ask for it. I presumed that after a night out with your girlfriend, a boy is deserving of sex… I sanctioned my own perceived needs and sexual urges and had no regard for Thordis’s well-being. Rape is the only term for what I next did’.
This extraordinary situation of a woman sharing the stage with her rapist has been met with a lot of criticism, particularly at the All About Women Conference in London earlier this month. Amira Elwakil’s petition to oppose Tom Stranger’s appearance at the festival was declared successful with 2,364 signatures.
“I presumed that after a night out with your girlfriend, a boy is deserving of sex… I sanctioned my own perceived needs and sexual urges”
The main concern is that allowing Tom such a prominent platform to talk about the rape he committed will ‘inevitably encourage the normalisation of sexual violence instead of focussing on accountability and root causes of this violence’.
It is also problematic as it suggests that rapists can be given a platform in which they are applauded for their actions and could encourage rapists to contact their victims, which may have detrimental affects for the survivors.
— Anders Monemar (@monemar) March 30, 2017
In a context where approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England every year, (roughly 11 rapes every hour) and only 15% of sexual violence is reported, narratives like Thordis and Tom’s become essential to the public discourse about rape. This can be seen by their viral success with half a million views of their TedTalk, their sold out tour and the extremely successful release of their book South of Forgiveness.
The pair serve as a example of one method of addressing sexual violence, however, this should not be idealised and the rapist, Tom, should not be glorified or praised for his public confession for it undermines the severity of rape.
“The demonization of the perpetrator, as Thordis’s explains, is destructive, as they aren’t always the deprived monsters the media portrays”
Despite these imperative critiques, Thordis and Tom’s collaborative talk addresses some critical ideas concerning rape and the stereotypes of what a rapist looks like. The media is saturated with sensationalised images of rapists as armed lunatics and monsters. When in fact Tom, seems quite normal, friendly and harmless, and does not ‘fit’ the idea of what a rapist looks like.
The demonization of the perpetrator, as Thordis’s explains, is destructive, as they aren’t always the deprived monsters the media portrays; they are our family members, our boyfriends, our friends, our colleges and our neighbours. After all, in 9/10 cases of sexual assault, the perpetrator is known to the woman, and in the majority of cases it is a partner or ex-partner.
— Dan Fan (@DanFan2016) February 11, 2017
Therefore it is essential to address and deconstruct this stereotype because if the perpetrator does not fit the sensationalised image of a monster, a survivor is more likely to dismiss or rationalise the event, or are less likely to be believed. Furthermore, people like Tom are less likely to recognise their actions for what they were.
This was the case for Thordis and Tom, for by the time she realised the severity of that night, Tom had completed his exchange programme and had returned to Australia, far from the jurisdiction of the Icelandic police.
“It is essential to deconstruct this stereotype because if the perpetrator does not fit the sensationalised image of a monster, a survivor is more likely to dismiss or rationalise the event”
Accepting full accountability for his actions, Tom hopes to aid the discussion about men’s responsibility for sexual violence by encouraging and inviting men to become part of the solution. He refuses any financial benefits for his appearances and vows to donate any profits to charity for his only aim is to be part of the educative process of consent and show that it is possible for an everyday person to commit sexual assault and that there are no excuses for it, such as age, intoxication or relationship status.
Do you think it’s right to give rapists a platform? Let us know in the comments or via social media links below.