In praise of Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger

What Thordis Elva is doing isn’t dangerous, but thinking we have a claim to her pain is.

Yesterday, Cosmopolitan published the remarkable story of Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger. To summarise briefly, the pair were in a relationship 20 years ago. One night, when Thordis was drunk, Tom forced himself on her. She was 16.

Years later, she reached out to him, and the pair embarked on a journey down the long road to forgiveness. Now they give talks about what happened all those years ago, and have co-authored a book, South of Forgiveness.

The article stirred up a lot of outrage on Twitter, and while I can understand where it’s coming from, I think we need look a bit deeper.

I appreciate that the issue here is that Tom has been given a platform. He doesn’t deserve to have a voice – he’s a rapist after all, right?

No. I simply don’t agree. While I don’t sympathise with him or condone what he did, he has a right to share his story. A story that I believe carries an important message. His account details how over the years he faced up to what he did, and shifted the blame of the attack onto himself. He learned that being in a relationship with someone doesn’t entitle you to their body, a lesson I fear many others have yet to learn. If his story stops just one other person from committing the same awful crime he did, then surely his openness is a positive thing.

As Thordis herself puts it, “I understand those who are inclined to criticize me as someone who enabled a perpetrator to have a voice in this discussion. But I believe that a lot can be learned by listening to those who have been a part of the problem — if they’re willing to become part of the solution — about what ideas and attitudes drove their violent actions, so we can work on uprooting them effectively.”

I couldn’t agree more. I may not feel comfortable reading the words of a rapist, but I truly feel that the positive impact of his candour will far outweigh my uneasiness. It’s clear that Thordis understands the seriousness of what she’s doing, and I think we should trust that they will use their platform responsibly.

Thordis wants to share her story, and for reasons we don’t need to understand, she wants Tom to be a part of that. By suggesting Tom shouldn’t have a voice, are we not saying Thordis shouldn’t either?

Many people have sadly gone through what Thordis did, and quite understandably wouldn’t be able to forgive their attacker. But we can still support what she is doing without invalidating our own feelings. There is no ‘right’ way to recover from sexual assault and while we might not understand how Thordis is able to have the relationship she does with Tom, we have to respect her right to do what she needs to heal.

You have every right to be outraged. No-one would blame you if you didn’t want to read their book or listen to what they have to say. But for every person that disagrees with what they’re doing is another person that could draw strength from their story of forgiveness. So please don’t be so quick to brand what they’re doing as ‘dangerous’.

Tom has a voice here because Thordis has given it to him. If we silence him, we are effectively silencing her. And that’s dangerous.

You can watch their Ted Talk here.

1 Comment

  1. February 8, 2017 / 9:45 pm

    Thank you for writing Mel, I agree with pretty much every single word! I’m also glad it means we are talking about consent & relationships

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