Meet woman who has written a book with her rapist, reveals why she didn’t press charges against him

A rape survivor who teamed up with her own rapist to tell their story has revealed why she decided to not press charges against her then-boyfriend.

Thordis Elva, from Iceland, was just 16 years old when she was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend, an Australian foreign exchange student, Tom Stranger, 18, in 1996.

After co-authoring a book on the rape together, the pair teamed up for a talk at the TED conference – which has since been viewed more than two million times.

In a 19-minute-long talk filmed late last year, Mr Stranger and Ms Elva discussed the impact the rape had on both of their lives.

Thordis said in The Observer: ‘I am concerned with how quick some people were to judge the “wrong” way in which I worked through my experience.’

She added: ‘By the time I was able to identify what had happened to me as rape, Tom had moved to the other side of the planet, far from the jurisdiction of the Icelandic police.

The pair had been dating for a ‘month or so’ when the assault took place in Ms Elva’s home after the school’s Christmas ball.

Ms Elva had tried rum for the first time, and she describes thinking that Mr Stranger was her hero after he took her home to put her to bed.

‘It was like a fairy tale, his strong arms around me, laying me in the safety of my bed,’ she remembered.
However, soon her gratitude turned to horror ‘as he proceeded to take off my clothes and get on top of me.

‘My head had cleared up, but my body was still too weak to fight back, and the pain was blinding. I thought I’d been severed in two.
‘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,’ she said.

The couple broke up a couple of days later and Mr Stranger returned home to Australia.

‘At the time, 70% of rape cases in Iceland were dismissed, even when the perpetrator could be interrogated and the survivor had documented injuries, neither of which were the case for me. Therefore, pressing charges would not have been a fruitful process.’

She later forgave him without his consent.

Thordis and Tom were due to speak at the Women of the World conference but a petition started by Amira Elwakil now has more than 2000 signatures asking for the conference not to host Stranger.

‘By giving the rapist in question a platform to relay their narrative, the event will inevitably encourage the normalisation of sexual violence instead of focusing on accountability and root causes of this violence.’

Ms Elva and Mr Stranger have co-authored a book, called South of Forgiveness.