“I’m all for Thordis Elva’s rapist writing a book, but on one condition.”

Video via TED Talks

I’m all for writing a book with your rapist. But on one condition.

For anyone who didn’t tune into Monday night’s “All About Women” episode of Q&A, let me recap:

One of the five women on the panel last night was Icelandic writer and advocate Thordis Elva. You might know her as the woman writing a book with the Australian man who raped her.

Some 17 years ago, Elva’s then teenage boyfriend Tom Stranger sexually assaulted her while she was drunk to the point of incapacitation. It’s a blindingly painful memory she relives with “horror and betrayal”.

Thordis Elva on ABC's Q&A program. (Image: ABC)

"He undressed me and decided to have his way with me," Elva told the live audience.

"The way that my head was positioned meant that my line of vision was my alarm clock. In order to survive and just stay sane throughout the pain was to count seconds for me... I got up to 7200."

Eight years passed before the journalist confronted her perpetrator with a letter, sent halfway across the globe, hoping to alert him to the psychological damage he had caused.

Advertisement

Stranger responded with a written confession and apology.

Slowly, the pair embarked upon a journey to reconciliation, "committed to exploring the darkest moment of their lives". Not only did they appear side-by-side in a viral TED Talk, they are currently on a global tour to promote their new book South of Forgiveness.

A book they co-wrote. One that retails for $32.99.

MORE FROM Opinion

Speaking to Triple J's Hack program this week, Stranger, now 35, expressed his remorse at the archaic view of women he once held.

"[I] enacted this perception that when a boy goes out with his girlfriend partying that he's entitled to sex and I took that to a horrible place," Stranger said.

"I guess, as best as I can place it and state it, I felt entitled and that my needs were above Thordis'."

People like Tom Stranger are imperative to tackling issues of violence against women and sexual assault. After all, male perpetrators are, by almost every measure, the crux of the issue. Women discussing rape with other women is beneficial from a remedial standpoint, but we do not touch the issue of future rapes when the very people who are most likely to commit them - men - are not seated at the table.

We need men like Tom Stranger. We need more men like him to get involved; to break down the misconception that rape is a "women's issue", when really it is a human issue.

So yes, I'm all for Thordis Elva writing a book with her rapist. But on one condition.

If I pay $32.99 for South of Forgiveness, I want complete assurance that not a cent will go towards Tom Stranger's bank account.

Because repenting raping someone is one thing. Profiting from raping someone is something else entirely.

After last night's Q&A program, despite Elva being asked point-blank, "Is he donating the money [he makes from the book]?" it was still unclear whether or not Stranger will be receiving a slice of the profits.

"As the primary author of South of Forgiveness I am getting the overwhelming majority of all royalties," Elva replied. "Tom gets a small portion, and he's looking into what charities he can invest his profits into at the moment."

It's a curious answer.

This is a man who has identified as a rapist for nearly a decade, and has been actively involved in writing a book about it. He has known for months, at least, that this book will be sold online and on book shelves. For him to not name a sexual violence charity by the time the book is published and raking in sales is unusual, if not questionable.

Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger on the TED stage. Image via TED.

This book's launch is not an event that was sprung upon him at the last minute. Tom Stranger has had time to research and name a charity.

On the book's website, it loosely states: "Tom will donate a portion of any proceeds he receives to charity."

Pledging to donate "a portion" to "a charity" is not enough. Does that mean 90 per cent? 50 per cent? Two per cent?

Other rape survivors deserve to know where this money is going.

I'm so happy that Tom Stranger had the courage to admit what he did. I'm so relieved he faced the pain he inflicted on Thordis Elva, and apologised for it. Thousands of men in his position have chosen to pursue an alternative, cowardly route.

For that, he deserves recognition. But I will not be forking out $32.99 until Tom Stranger names the charity.

We need a name. And the "portion" needs to be 100 per cent.

Editor's note: On March 16, the publicist of South Of Forgiveness confirmed Tom will be donating any profits he receives to a women's shelter in Reykjavik. 

 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION