Discussions about domestic violence, rape and forgiveness dominated an all-women episode of Q&A, held ahead of International Women’s Day on Wednesday.
Warning: this story contains a description of sexual assault.
The panel — which included Icelandic writer Thordis Elva, journalist Mei Fong, lawyer Josephine Cashman, writer Lindy West and presenter Faustina Agolley — touched on a variety of topics including rape culture, and Elva’s own story of how she was raped by her then-boyfriend, Australian Tom Stranger.
Elva, who has co-written a book with Stranger about their process of reconciliation, was raped after a party when she was 16. Nine years later, she contacted him via email, and the pair exchanged correspondence for eight years before meeting in South Africa.
“Forgiveness was definitely not something that came fast … but I also have to be clear that forgiveness was never ever for him,” she said.
“It is an extremely misunderstood concept. People somehow think you are giving the perpetrator something when you forgive, but, in my view, it is the complete polar opposite.
“Forgiving was for me so that I could let go of the self-blame and shame that I had wrongfully shouldered that were corroding me and basically ruining my life.”Advertisement
‘It won’t work for the average victim’
Ms Cashman acknowledged Elva’s bravery, but cautioned anyone from taking the same path “for public policy reasons”.
“Because … if someone rapes you, the best place to go is the police,” she said.
“The best place for the offender is to go to court because, in our criminal system, we have a way of monitoring them.
“The problem that I am faced with this is that it is not going to work for most people. Their rapists contacting them — it is not going to work.
“It is great that we have got a panellist here who has risen above, but are we opening the floodgates for rapists to contact victims? Because I know a few of them are really dangerous people. It is a public policy thing.
“It is great someone can do a book tour and live through this, but for the average victim, it won’t work for them … the only way people like these [perpetrators] changed their behaviour is by being held to account.”
But Elva said many were wary of the justice system, and did not see justice served within it.
“Last time I checked, 98 per cent of women that are raped never see their offender spend any time behind bars,” she said.
“It is the most underreported crime in the world. So that also speaks volumes of women not feeling that if they go and try to get justice served, that they will be received well, that they will be believed, that they even have a case…
“We are not putting forth our story as a manual for any people … survivors are continually told what they are supposed to do. It is part of a victim-blaming culture.
“Part of something that we have to do is to support survivors, to do whatever feels safe for them and not tell them that there is a right or a wrong way to react when you are violated.
“I think that everyone has to find their way and do what feels safe and right for them because that is their right to heal from what happened.”
Agolley said Ms Cashman and Elva had a similar aim, saying she understood the need to go through the court system, but added that “quite often the court system is patriarchal and fails women”.
Stranger joined Elva at a TED talk earlier this year, speaking about their journey and male privilege and entitlement, but West said he should spend his time talking to young men.
“I think that the people who really need to hear [his story] are young men, men who have been raised in a rape culture and raised to have permissive attitudes and even inappropriate attitudes about women’s bodies,” she said.
According to Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) research, one in five women and one in 22 men have experienced sexual violence from a partner, other known person or a stranger.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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