In 2016, a fascinating and inspiring Ted Talks video was aired called “Our Story of Rape and Reconciliation” given by Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger.
The video shows Elva and Stranger taking turns sharing their story. In 1996, Stranger was an 18-year-old Australian exchange student to Iceland. He met 16-year-old Elva and they began dating.
Elva tells the story, from her perspective, of the night Stranger forced himself on her. She tells of her long subsequent battle with shame and secrecy. She tells of the trouble she had with trusting men after that.
The first surprising turn is when Stranger recounts his own experience of the rape. We get to hear a somewhat non-critical view of the rapist’s own trauma and isolation from.
In addition, we get to see something we almost never see portrayed in the media: the perpetrator as a person. Not that what he did was right, just that he was a normal person who did something wrong.
Years later, after Elva had been married and had children, she contacted Stranger by letter. They exchanged letters and talked on the phone and then they decided to meet.
The goal was reconciliation.
Rape and Reconciliation
It’s easy to see why so many people could find this story shocking. We usually deal with rape through the criminal justice system. Victims and perpetrators meet only in court, if ever.
Reconciliation is seldom reported if it ever happens. The story of a victim’s recovery is usually one of individual suffering and healing. We almost never hear about the psychological effects of rape on the perpetrator.
This perspective is understandable, but is it the most effective?
According to the World Health Organization:
- Global estimates published by WHO indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.
- Most of this violence is intimate partner violence. Worldwide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship report that they have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence by their intimate partner in their lifetime.
Who Are Sex Offenders?
According to the Center For Sex Offender Management, sex offenders are just like everyone else in many ways. We are so used to seeing television that wants to paint sex offenders as different from everyone else. In some cases, this is true.
There is often more to the story than the crime for which the perpetrator was arrested. Additionally, there are often underlying interests, or patterns of behavior, that have gone undetected.
It doesn’t mean that every sex offender has left behind a trail of other victims. It might mean that for every victim suffering secretly, there is an offender who is also secretly “suffering” from the shame of wrong desires he feels he can’t tell anyone.
The most interesting moment in this Ted Talk is when Elva says “But how will we understand what it is in human societies that produces violence if we refuse to recognize the humanity of those who commit it?”
The audience claps after she says this – in a moment she clearly hadn’t prepared for applause.
Maybe, as sexual violence becomes more and more prevalent in our society, more parents and friends of perpetrators – and hopefully perpetrators themselves, like Tom Stranger, will seek help for victims and violators.
In conclusion, Elva states, “It’s about time that we stop treating sexual violence as a women’s issue.”
What do you think? How could our society better meet the needs of offenders before they victimize someone else?
If you or someone you know has been charged with rape, it is critical to seek out legal advice. Reach out for help today. There is hope.