Out In The Open

'It's a sense that I had a right to take what I felt was needed'

In 1996, Tom Stranger raped his then-girlfriend Thordis Elva. Nine years later, Thordis confronted Tom about that night... and he owned up to committing sexual assault.
Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger (Courtesy of Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger)

"There was a sense of entitlement. There was an attitude that when a boy goes out partying with his girlfriend, that he's entitled to sex.

"And I took that to a very dark place," says Tom Stranger.

In 1996, Tom raped Thordis Elva.

Tom was an 18-year-old Australian exchange student in Iceland.

That's where he met and started dating 16-year-old Thordis.

Thordis says it was "a typical teenage romance," until the night Tom raped her.

She became ill after drinking rum for the first time during a Christmas dance.

"I was completely incapacitated. I couldn't move a limb or utter a word," she says.

Tom brought Thordis to her home and raped her in her bedroom.

Nine years later, after struggling to come to terms with what happened to her, Thordis wrote Tom a letter about that night and how it affected her.

"I felt that I owed it to myself to speak my truth, to break my silence. So I decided to send the letter. The very last thing I expected was the email that I got back," says Thordis. 

Tom replied admitting that he raped her. 

Tom's response to Thordis' initial email.

"I recognized myself in the details. It connected to memories. It was undeniable...And it feels like if I didn't respond or didn't say anything then that would just add to the pain I caused," says Tom.

After that, Tom and Thordis developed an 8-year-long correspondence. 

"It was about relearning that night and going back there and also just trying to comprehend how I was capable of this," say Tom.

Their correspondence eventually led to a face-to-face meeting, the decision to speak publicly about their story, and a book, South of Forgiveness, published earlier this month.

In their conversation with Piya, Tom further reflects on the entitlement he felt that night when he was 18.

"I'm not offering this as an excuse. I was part of a social grouping of young men that's often unseen and unscrutinized, but very privileged and not questioned. And these notions of masculinity that you have a right to a woman's body…that women are of less value and that you have a privilege, that's almost a birthright.

"...I would certainly like to reach young men who might harbour such damaging notions of entitlement to a woman's body that I did. [And say] this is just simply wrong."

This story originally aired on May 21, 2017