Our story of rape and reconciliation | Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger | Summary and Q&A

February 13, 2017
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Our story of rape and reconciliation | Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger


In this talk, Tom Stranger and Thordis Elva share their personal journey of healing and forgiveness after experiencing sexual violence.

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Key Insights

  • 💔 Thordis tells her story of being raped by her boyfriend at the age of 16, despite the fact that it did not fit the traditional narrative of rape.
  • 💡 Thordis highlights the harmful societal beliefs and victim-blaming that can perpetuate the cycle of sexual violence.
  • 📝 Thordis begins a correspondence with her rapist, Tom, after nine years of silence and self-destructive behavior, leading to a transformative journey of healing and forgiveness.
  • 🗣️ Thordis emphasizes the power of speaking out and breaking the silence surrounding sexual violence, while acknowledging the privilege and responsibility that comes with sharing her story.
  • ✨ The meeting between Thordis and Tom in Cape Town becomes a powerful catalyst for reconciliation and understanding, sparking raw emotions, deep conversations, and moments of unexpected laughter.
  • 🙌 Thordis reflects on her journey towards forgiveness and the importance of embracing the humanity of both survivors and perpetrators in order to address the root causes of sexual violence.
  • 🌍 Thordis encourages a collective effort to challenge the societal norms that perpetuate sexual violence and calls for men's voices to be included in the conversation.
  • 🔍 Thordis emphasizes the need for education and awareness about sexual violence, urging people to take responsibility and take action to alleviate the suffering caused by this global pandemic.


[This talk contains graphic language and descriptions of sexual violence Viewer discretion is advised] Tom Stranger: In 1996, when I was 18 years old, I had the golden opportunity to go on an international exchange program. Ironically I'm an Australian who prefers proper icy cold weather, so I was both excited and tearful when I got on a plane to I... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Tom Stranger and Thordis Elva meet?

Tom Stranger and Thordis Elva met when Tom went on an international exchange program to Iceland. They met through their school play and started a romantic relationship.

Q: How did Thordis initially perceive the incident with Tom?

Initially, Thordis did not identify what happened to her as rape. She blamed herself and thought it was her fault because of societal expectations that girls get raped for a reason, such as their appearance or behavior.

Q: How did Tom initially perceive his actions towards Thordis?

Tom initially didn't acknowledge that what he did was rape. He reframed it as consensual sex in his mind and refused to face the reality of the immense trauma he caused Thordis.

Q: What happened after Thordis wrote a letter to Tom?

After Thordis wrote a letter to Tom, he responded with a confession full of regret. This marked the beginning of an eight-year-long correspondence where they both owned up to their actions and dissected the consequences of that night.

Q: Where did Tom and Thordis meet after their correspondence?

Tom and Thordis decided to meet in Cape Town, South Africa, for one week to face their past and work towards reconciliation and forgiveness. Cape Town, known for its history of healing and reconciliation, provided a powerful environment for their journey.

Q: What is the purpose of Thordis and Tom sharing their story?

Thordis and Tom hope that by sharing their story and writing a book, they can provide support and hope to survivors of sexual violence and work towards breaking the silence. They also aim to highlight the importance of recognizing the humanity of both survivors and perpetrators in order to address the issue effectively.


This talk features Tom Stranger and Thordis Elva, who share their personal experiences of sexual violence and their journey towards reconciliation and forgiveness. Tom, an Australian exchange student in Iceland, raped Thordis, his girlfriend at the time, when they were both teenagers. Years later, Thordis decided to confront her trauma by writing a letter to Tom, seeking forgiveness. Surprisingly, Tom responded with remorse and regret, initiating a correspondence that lasted eight years. Eventually, they decided to meet in Cape Town, South Africa, to have a face-to-face conversation and confront their past. Through honesty and vulnerability, they were able to find healing and understanding. They now advocate for open discussions about sexual violence and aim to challenge societal perceptions and labels.

Questions & Answers

Q: What was the initial reaction from Thordis after the rape incident?

Thordis initially blamed herself and carried a deep sense of shame. She subscribed to the cultural belief that girls get raped for a reason and felt that her actions, such as drinking and her appearance, had contributed to the assault. It took her years to fully understand that the only person responsible for the rape was the man who committed it.

Q: How did Tom initially perceive his actions?

After the rape, Tom did not immediately recognize his deed as rape. He refused to acknowledge the reality of what he had done and convinced himself that it was consensual sex rather than rape. He disavowed the truth and attempted to erase the memory from his mind. It wasn't until years later that he confronts and accepts his responsibility.

Q: What prompted Thordis to reach out to Tom after so many years?

Thordis reached a breaking point where the silence and shame became unbearable. Desiring peace and healing for herself, she decided to write a letter to Tom, expressing her experiences and her desire for forgiveness. She realized that regardless of whether Tom deserved her forgiveness, she deserved peace.

Q: How did Tom respond to Thordis's letter?

Tom responded with a typed confession filled with regret and remorse for his actions. He acknowledged the immense trauma he had caused Thordis and owned up to his responsibility. This marked the beginning of their eight-year-long correspondence, which allowed them to dissect the consequences of that night.

Q: Why did they choose to meet in Cape Town, South Africa?

Cape Town was chosen as the meeting place because of its historical context. South Africa as a nation has grappled with its past and sought to address its history honestly. The environment in Cape Town symbolized the potential for healing and reconciliation, which resonated with Tom and Thordis.

Q: How did the meeting in Cape Town impact them?

During their week-long meeting in Cape Town, they shared their life stories with each other. It was an opportunity for both of them to analyze their own histories, express their feelings, and gain understanding. The experience was filled with gut-wrenching confessions, moments of clarity, and unexpected laughter. Through genuine listening and open conversation, they found healing and relief.

Q: Did Thordis ever want revenge against Tom?

Thordis admitted that she initially desired revenge, strongly feeling the urge to hurt Tom as deeply as he had hurt her. However, she resisted this urge and pursued a path of forgiveness and understanding. She recognized that revenge would only perpetuate the cycle of violence and wanted to find peace for herself.

Q: Do Tom and Thordis believe their journey is applicable to others?

They do not prescribe their journey as a formula for others. They acknowledge that breaking one's silence and seeking forgiveness is a deeply personal and challenging process. However, they feel a responsibility to share their story because they understand the importance of open conversations about sexual violence. They hope that their story can be a source of inspiration and education for survivors and perpetrators alike.

Q: How does Thordis advocate for changing the conversation around sexual violence?

Thordis emphasizes the need to shift the narrative around sexual violence from being a women's issue to a collective issue that requires the involvement of all genders. She believes that men's voices and experiences are often underrepresented in discussions about sexual violence, despite the fact that a majority of it is perpetrated by men. Thordis hopes that by coming together and facing this issue collectively, we can alleviate the suffering caused by sexual violence.

Q: How did Tom's understanding of his actions change over time?

Tom acknowledges that his actions that night were self-centered and based on a sense of entitlement over Thordis's body. Initially, he refused to admit that what he did was rape and disavowed the truth. However, through the process of accepting responsibility and owning up to his actions, he realized that he could separate his actions from his overall identity. He recognizes the importance of words and how saying "I raped you" shifted the blame from Thordis to himself, challenging the societal tendency to blame survivors instead of the perpetrators.


This powerful and thought-provoking talk emphasizes the importance of open dialogue and understanding when addressing sexual violence. Thordis and Tom's journey towards reconciliation and forgiveness demonstrates that healing is possible, even in the most challenging circumstances. Their story challenges societal perceptions and labels by recognizing the humanity of both survivors and perpetrators. They advocate for inclusive conversations about sexual violence that involve people of all genders and emphasize the need to treat survivors with dignity and empower them. Breaking the silence and facing sexual violence as a collective issue can lead to a more compassionate and proactive approach to prevention and recovery.

Note: This summary has been condensed for clarity and brevity. Please refer to the original video for the full content.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • The speaker, Thordis Elva, shares her experience of being raped by her boyfriend when she was 16 and how she struggled with shame and self-blame.

  • The speaker, Tom Stranger, admits to his actions and takes responsibility for raping Thordis, reflecting on the societal influences that contributed to his behavior.

  • After years of silence and correspondence, Thordis and Tom meet in Cape Town to face their past, share their stories, and find healing and forgiveness.

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