Sexual abuse survivor Thordis Elva defends forgiving her rapist on TV

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It’s the controversial TED talk that everybody saw.

Icelandic writer Thordis Elva shared the stage with her high school boyfriend and rapist, Australian man Tom Stranger — both inviting the audience to discuss sexual violence in a new way.

However, sharing a stage, co-writing a book (South of Forgiveness) and forgiving one’s rapist is a concept many are uncomfortable with.

So when Elva was a guest on Australian panel show Q&A, she found herself defending her path to forgiveness and reconciliation. Some felt her attacker wasn’t held to account, while an advocate for domestic abuse survivors warned of the "vicious cycle" that traps many survivors who forgive.

For Elva, forgiveness was about self-healing. "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 …" she said.

"I would advise against anybody in Australia going down this course for public policy reasons, because the courts are the best place, and the police." — Lawyer Josephine Cashman

But lawyer and survivor’s advocate Josephine Cashman described forgiveness as a slippery slope while sitting next to Elva on the panel. Many domestic abuse survivors, she said, get back together with their partners after forgiving them for past abuse, setting up a "vicious cycle" that may be hard for women to escape.

"I would advise against anybody in Australia going down this course for public policy reasons, because the courts are the best place, and the police. If someone rapes you, the best place to go is the police," she said. She also stated that a rapist convicted under Australian law "would not be able to profit from a global world tour, or from a book," because of legislation.

On the subject of "profiting," an audience member asked Elva "Why should a sexual assault perpetrator be praised for the mere acknowledgement of wrongdoing without being held accountable at law for his crime? Why should a rapist profit from his crime? Will Tom Stranger donate 100 percent of his book proceeds to survivors of sexual assault?"

The question received a hearty applause, before Elva said that sexual abuse was under-reported and punishments "too lenient," implying that the legal system wasn’t always reliable in bringing about justice for survivors, in her view. "I am one of the millions of people whose case fell through the cracks of the legal system," she said.

Thordis Elva is incredibly courageous. It’s always for a survivor of abuse to decide how they heal & what they do. No right or wrong. #qanda

— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K) March 6, 2017

"I find it very confining to say that all survivors should do one thing when that might not feel safe for everyone. 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."

"We aren’t putting our story forward as manual for others" Thordis Elva "We have to support survivors to do what feels safe for them" #QandA

— Natasha Mitchell🎧🎙 (@natashamitchell) March 6, 2017

She continued, "It is not about applauding the rapists … It is about a rapist giving voice to the immeasurable hurt that he caused."

Elva also said she received the "overwhelming royalties" from her book, and that Stranger received only a "small part" and was "looking into" donating to a charity.

If you have experienced sexual abuse, call the free, confidential National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), or access the 24-7 help online by visiting online.rainn.org.

In Australia: If you have experienced sexual abuse or violence, you can talk to someone at 1800 RESPECT, a 24/7 national telephone hotline – 1800 737 732.