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Conversations about rape

  • 09 March 2017


Content warning: This article will discuss sexual violence.

Last Monday, there was a Q and A discussion about feminism and women's rights in honour of International Women's Day. On that panel was Thordis Elva (pictured), an anti-violence campaigner known for hosting a TED Talk with her rapist Tom Stranger, 20 years after the rape took place. They are currently touring for their book, South of Forgiveness, which was published in February.

I watched Thordis argue that forgiveness was a type of reconciliation with yourself and not really about the rapist. When asked about giving Tom a platform she said, 'It's not about applauding a rapist but giving them a voice to the immeasurable hurt that he has caused.'

So I kept vacillating on my position, with debate on Q and A emulating my internal monologue. Is there a place for rapists in the conversation about rape? Did I want to hear what a rapist had to say? It was heightened by the fact that as I watching it, I was on the phone to someone close to me who had been sexually assaulted in the past. Would I want her anywhere near her rapist again? No.

The fact is that statistically, once someone has been raped, they are at a higher chance of being raped again. This can happen when a victim is caught in an abuse cycle of increasing violence and decreasing honeymoon periods, where unless the signs are caught early, it becomes incredibly difficult to leave the relationship. It also occurs because of revictimisation, where victims can feel a compulsive need to reenact their trauma, leaving them vulnerable to manipulative and predatory behaviour.

So with this knowledge I read and watched Thordis' story feeling like my stomach was tearing itself apart. After watching the segment, I paced around my dining room table for about half an hour. Because I understood how Thordis' story could have gone so very wrong.

Revictimisation and the abuse cycle aren't widely understood by the general public. Active consent isn't taught in our schools. Truthfully, I am afraid of the worst case scenario, that because their story has been so highlighted by the media, it could lead to access for rapists to contact their victims or gain platforms like Tom's, and abuse their access to safe spaces with particularly vulnerable people.

But there is also a significant benefit to Thordis and Tom sharing their story together. Tom is in direct opposition